With savvy moves by Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock stiffening up the middle of the defense, could the Raiders draft capital could be leveraged to add more talent at EDGE?
In just six weeks the Las Vegas Raiders defense has taken on a new form. While Paul Guenther is still in charge, the team added defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and a slew of players to make the unit better – especially through the middle of the field.
The Raiders could still look for help on the EDGE as well. Despite the breakout year of Maxx Crosby, and steady improvement by Clelin Ferrell, playing in a division with Patrick Mahomes means you can never be too athletic or too deep on the EDGE in the AFC West. This means the Raiders draft could include another young player on the EDGE.
Let’s look at some possible Raiders draft targets round-by-round should the team look to continue building at the position.
Round 1 – Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
- Great length allows him to keep blockers out of his body
- Keeps pads low for a taller player increasing ability to corner
- High motor when he is on his game
- Good hand usage give him different looks when rushing
- Consistency is an issue, can run hot and cold
- Slow to process can lead him to overrun plays in play-action and misdirection runs
Gross-Matos’s game is still a work in progress but the combo of size and speed is enticing. A team will have to deal with the lows because he has a tendency to disappear in games. If Gross-Matos can get more consistent with his rushing he can be a terror off the EDGE for years to come.
Round 3 – Jabari Zuniga, Florida
- The ability to switch from speed rush to power can get tackles off balance.
- Position flexibility allows him to play all across the line.
- Good burst off the line allows him to hit gaps on the O-line.
- Not the most instinctive player which can lead to misdiagnose plays
- Inconsistent in play – runs hot and cold on the field.
- Functional strength isn’t where it needs to be leading to him getting pushed off his spot.
- Ankle injuries have cost him too many games and slows him down when he plays through them.
A long athletic player with his burst and position flexibility are rare. If Zuniga can fix his consistency issues he has the profile to be a terror all along the dline. A good edge rusher that could probably get even better with a move inside could allow a team to fill more than one hole with a single player.
Round 4 – Kenny Wilikies, Michigan State
- Great against the run because he understands and sticks to his gap assignments.
- Excellent footwork and mobility allow him to play sideline to sideline.
- High motor that never seems to run cold.
- Shorter arms allow blockers to get in his chest.
- Strength is a big issue for Wilikies making it hard to shed blockers at the point of attack.
- Gets caught looking into the backfield too often leading to misreading the play.
- Penalties have been an issue and will need to be improved
Wilikies isn’t the type of athlete most teams look for in an EDGE rusher. He tries to make up for that lack of athleticism with his nonstop motor but his lack of functional strength can keep him from making plays. He could shine as a situational pass rusher early while he hits the weight room and tries to increase his strength.
Round 5 – Michael Divinity Jr., LSU
- Uses his length to his advantage in both rushing and coverage.
- Good footwork and mobility allow him to cover a lot of ground.
- Played DE OLB and ILB at LSU so he has position flexibility.
- Quicker than fast doesn’t have top-end speed.
- No set position so a team will have to have a plan for him in their defense.
- Can be slow to process but some of that can be due to him playing all over the field.
- Red Flags for off-field issues led to a suspension at LSU
Divinity is flying under the radar due to the missed games because of the suspension. If a team, like the Raiders draft him and can give him a set role, and get past his red flags, he is a developmental prospect that can pay dividends. I have him as a 5th rounder but his red flags may drop him even farther down the draft making him a bigger draft steal.