The Raiders needed tons of defensive help this offseason. They got some, most of it in free agency's second wave. Big money was thrown at offensive players last month, with only defensive back Lamarcus Joyner wooed with a hefty paycheck.
That's not enough but better than nothing, and strengthens the expectation the Raiders will go defense early and often in the NFL draft.
A majority of the team's four picks in the top 35 overall should go defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's way. Even half could be consider disappointment for a unit needing major upgrades at several spots. Defensive needs vary by degree, from lax to pressing, from off-the-ball linebacker to edge rusher.
Let's take a look at the Raiders defense as it stands right now, and examine where the unit needs reinforcements most.
Starters (as it stands now):Arden Key, Josh Mauro
Key depth:Absolutely none. Zilch. Zero. Nada.
State of the position group:First and foremost, this group needs beating hearts. The Raiders are shockingly thin off the edge for this point in the offseason, though laying off the high-price free-agent options – franchise tags thinned the talent pool – made perfect sense. The position must be addressed once, likely more in the draft to fill out a depth. They could start up high with the fourth pick, and/or in the 20s. While taking the best player available is preferred on a team with so many needs, they've got to find spots to add pass rushers to the roster. It's a deep draft class, with quality leaking well into the middle rounds. The Raiders will need an instant impact from at least one pass rusher, a tough predicament for any young player. It has to happen here as the Raiders try to remedy their greatest issue heading into 2019.
Starters (as it stands now): Justin Ellis, DT Maurice Hurst, DT PJ Hall (sub package)
Key depth:Johnathan Hankins, Eddie Vanderdoes, Gabe Wright
State of the position group:The Raiders have solid run stoppers in Ellie and Hankins. Hurst is talented enough to become a three-down player effective against the run and pass. The Raiders drafted Hurst and Hall in last year's draft, but that should stop them for even one second from drafting Quinnen Williams at No. 4 overall if he's available. He could bring the interior pressure that's all the rage against pass-happy offenses. Ed Oliver's an excellent player who could be a top 5 pick, certainly a top 10 selection this year. The Raiders could use upgrades rushing from the inside, but Hurst's presence and potential suggests they can survive if the draft goes away from the position. That said, there is no player preventing the Raiders from taking an interior player at any point in the draft.
Starters (as it stands now):Brandon Marshall, Tahir Whitehead, Vontaze Burfict
Key depth:Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow, Jason Cabinda, Kyle Wilber
State of the position group:The presumed veteran starters are all off-the-ball linebackers with experience in the middle and the weakside, but they won't be competing for two spots. Marshall, Burfict and Whitehead could man the base defense if they find old form after recent struggles. The Raiders would prefer experience and improved coverage that last season, when Whitehead was flanked by youth after Derrick Johnson didn't pan out. The Raiders like Lee and Cabinda, and Morrow can certainly cover.
There's quality modern coverage linebackers in the draft they could take, but the Raiders are positioned well even if they don't add another player. They also have still-developing reserves to step in and help the Raiders survive should Burfict or Marshall struggle some or prove best as situational players.
Starters (as it stands now):Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley, Lamarcus Joyner
Key depth:Tevin Lawson, Nick Nelson
State of the position group:The Raiders have three solid frontline options at cornerback. It has been a while since that's been true. One issue: Conley and Worley had had injury troubles and must remain healthy to maximize this unit. Conley could be a special player and Worley's a workhorse. You'll see Joyner in two spots in this defensive analysis, considering he'll work a ton from the slot. Lawson's a solid reserve who will compete for a starting spot, and Nelson must show progress to find weekend work. Gruden believes the Raiders need five quality corners and Worley's set to hit the market next year, so cornerback could be an early option, especially if a top player falls to the late 20s or at 35 overall.
Starters (as it stands now):Lamarcus Joyner, Karl Joseph
Key depth:Curtis Riley, Erik Harris
State of the position group:The Raiders spent big on Joyner, a versatile player who has been an excellent free safety. Joseph grew into a productive role as a physical, aggressive tone setter. He'll get another chance to prove his worth this year and should be a three-down player. Joyner will play a bunch in the slot, meaning the Raiders need another player capable of working deep. Riley can step into that role – Harris will certainly vie for it – but adding another safety seems a logical decision. There are some excellent options in the second round, including Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp and Darnell Savage. Adding another option here could provide the talent and competition required to round out the safety spot.