With their first pick on the second day of the 2016 NFL draft Friday, the Raiders added even more talent to a defense that’s been upgraded significantly this offseason.
Then they doubled down, adding yet another defender with their second pick of the day, the 12th choice of the third round (76th overall).
With the 13th pick of Round 2, No. 44 overall, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie took Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward, who’s capable of playing both defensive end and tackle in Oakland’s 4-3 scheme. When the Raiders picked Ward it appeared the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder would join the mix on the defensive line with ends Khalil Mack, Mario Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry and tackles Justin Ellis, Dan Williams and Stacy McGee.
But then added to that mix in the third round was Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, an edge rusher who had great success for the Spartans. The 6-foot-4, 252-pounder had 26 sacks over the past three seasons. He adds more speed to the Oakland pass rush.
After already adding safety Karl Joseph in the first round Thursday and safety Reggie Nelson, linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith in free agency, the Raiders are building a unit that should be much improved from 2015, when it ranked 21st in the NFL in total defense, giving up 336 yards per game.
Ward was honorable mention all-Big Ten in his final season at Illinois, recording three sacks, 8½ tackles for loss and 51 tackles. The NFL Network scouting report on Ward notes that he should continue to improve, saying that he has “above average athleticism for a man his size and he has the effort level that should lead to continued improvement.”
Until junior college, Ward was a wide receiver and safety. He told Bay Area media Friday night that he’s “still learning the game” and will get better at the next level.
Another point in Ward’s and Calhoun’s development is that McKenzie has done well drafting defensive linemen, with Mack, Edwards and Ellis all playing well. So far, at least, McKenzie has demonstrated he can pick talent along the defensive line.