Prediction: McKenzie Will Draft Rankins in First Round

Smart, strong defensive tackle from Louisville will give Raiders great push up front and boost defense against the run

With the 14th selection in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will take … the best player available.

That has been his mantra this entire offseason, and now that the draft finally is here, it’s what he’ll do when his turn to pick comes around. That means, of course, that the Raiders’ selection will depend on what happens with the first 13 selections, and that makes for a whole lot of uncertainty.

But one very likely scenario would be McKenzie using his top pick on Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.

Rankins, at 6-foot-1 and 299 pounds, is ranked by some as the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the draft. But with quarterbacks expected to go 1-2, and then a number of offensive tackles, defensive ends, cornerbacks and pass-rushing outside linebackers available, it’s conceivable that Rankins will drop into the middle of the first round to allow McKenzie to take him.

And why not? Over the past two seasons, McKenzie has had good luck, getting Khalil Mack, Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to fall his way. If that luck continues, Rankins would be a terrific addition to the rotation in the middle of the defensive line. After already strengthening his pass rush with linebacker Bruce Irvin and his secondary with cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, McKenzie’s addition of Rankins up front will help Oakland take a huge step forward defensively in 2016.

If Rankins is gone, then pencil in Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland as  McKenzie’s pick.

But it’s Rankins who could give the Raiders some push up front against opposing running attacks and tie up blockers on passing downs. This past season for Louisville, Rankins had six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and was in on 58 tackles in 13 starts. The year before, Rankins had 13.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and 53 tackles.

In his scouting report of defensive tackles for the draft, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says NFL scouts consider Rankins a “high character” person with leadership qualities who is super strong and quick to disrupt running games. “He’s a penetrator,” one scout told McGinn. “He can get off blocks. He can do lots of stuff.”

Rankins, Dan Williams and Justin Ellis in the middle of the defensive line would allow coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to have both depth and versatility.

The first round of the NFL draft Thursday will be televised on ESPN and the NFL Network beginning at 5 p.m.

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