While the Oakland Raiders started the free agency period quite slowly, they have begun to make some noise. The Raiders recently signed former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson while cutting Michael Crabtree. While Jordy appears as an upgrade from Crabtree, Nelson comes with a potential risk. Seeing how Jordy Nelson is now on the possible decline, along with being slightly injury prone, health could factor. In other moves, the Raiders appear to be stockpiling and upgrading draft picks. The Raiders sent Cordarrelle Patterson to the Patriots to exchange a 6th round pick for a 5th rounder.
The Raiders also pulled a similar move in trading fullback Jamize Olawale and a 6th round pick for another 5th round pick. With Gruden at the helm, the Raiders look to re-tool with picks. However, Gruden must stockpile defenders as well.
The Raiders’ defense had major holes last season especially at linebacker, defensive back as a whole, and D-line. The Raiders signed players to accommodate said holes like cornerback Rashaan Melvin. In addition, linebacker Kyle Wilber (Cowboys), and run-stopping defensive end Tank Carradine (49ers) provide depth. While these additions significantly help the Raiders’ defense, Paul Guenther needs interior rushers to take heat off Khalil Mack.
Last year, Oakland had 31 sacks which ranked 24th in the league. Khalil Mack finished the season with 10.5, or one third, of the total sacks for the Raiders. The Raiders also finished last in the league in interceptions, tallying only five. A lack of interceptions can be related to a lack of pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. With the team’s struggles at developing or acquiring an above average cornerback, the Raiders need a backup plan. Moreover, that backup plan must be additions to their defensive line.
The NFL draft can be an exceptional place to find the missing puzzle pieces a team has been looking for in free agency. Some NFL mock drafts see the Raiders taking a cornerback with their 10th overall pick. However, Oakland added a cornerback and have high expectations for Gareon Conley, leaving potential for their draft pick to head in a different route. Vita Vea (Washington) and Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) are the two names headlining the 2018 defensive line draft class. While both players rely on their ability to stop the run, Payne seems like as a better pass rusher. While either player would be significant help for the Raiders’ defensive line, Payne appears to be a better fit. What the stats will not tell you about Payne draws in a second blocker to free up space for his fellow defensive linemen.
With a majority of high-tier free agent defensive linemen already being signed, it would appear that the future of the Oakland Raiders’ defensive line lies in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a result, Da’Ron Payne figures in.