When the Oakland Raiders signed pass rusher Bruce Irvin to a four-year, $37 million contract in March of 2016, he was expected to form a dynamic tandem with Khalil Mack to apply relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While Irvin has flashed signs of quality in that role, he disappears for stretches of games. He’s a hot-and-cold player — the opportunity to play opposite Mack should lead to more consistent production.
Denico Autry has been a flashy player but is also a free agent. Simply put, Irvin needs competition and the Raiders need more depth at edge rusher.
After several seasons of lackluster performance from the unit, Paul Guenther is now in charge of the Raiders’ defense. Growth is expected. Despite having arguably the NFL’s best pass rusher in Mack, the Raiders have finished 24th and 32nd in sacks over the last two seasons.
It’s time for the Raiders to build an arsenal of pass rushers to maximize Mack’s contributions. The draft will be a great opportunity to do so. By the time Oakland picks at nine or 10, there is unlikely to be a prospect worthy of that selection. North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb would be a slam dunk pick, but it would come as major shock to find him available. If he is, the decision couldn’t be easier for Oakland. With that in mind, I focused on options that would presumably be available in the second round for the Raiders.
Let’s examine three prospects that can fix the Raiders’ pass rush problem.
Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
While Davenport is a raw talent, NFL teams draft players based on what they believe a prospect can become. If Davenport reaches his full potential, he can be a star pass rusher in the NFL.
Checking in at 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds with 34-inch arms, Davenport has the ideal frame for his athleticism and power, which the NFL covets.
Davenport has unteachable physical gifts which have led to frequent splash plays in college. With that said, there is still considerable room for growth as Davenport evolves in the finer details of pass rushing. Expanding his variety of moves, how he sets them up, and reducing his surface area can all evolve. Davenport made considerable strides when comparing his junior tape to his senior tape, so there is reason to believe he can continue to ascend.
My comparison for Davenport is Carlos Dunlap, whom Guenther enjoyed considerable success with in Cincinnati.
Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
The past 12 months for Key have been worrisome, but behind the injuries and personal matters there is a gifted pass rusher. Thought of as a top-10 prospect entering the season, Key may be available in the second round and would warrant consideration from Oakland should that be the case.
In 2016, Key showcased a dynamic pass-rushing skill set in which his length, burst and flexibility were lethal. He racked up 11 sacks in the SEC. While he didn’t appear as explosive in 2017, he did add bulk and was a much better run defender.
Assuming Key is healthy and committed, his upside is considerably high to become an upper-echelon pass rusher.
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
Hubbard is a technically refined defensive end who knows how to win with power, hand usage, and an unrelenting motor.
It’s clear from film study that Hubbard has an advanced understanding of how to combat blocks and pursue the football. His hand counters are seemingly unending. He knows how to soften angles and get off blocks. His functional strength from his punch, upper body and lower body to anchor and squeeze gaps is outstanding.
His burst and flexibility are less that ideal, but he is an excellent run defender and capable pass rusher. While he may not be a dynamic athlete, having a consistent presence opposite Mack may be exactly what the Raiders’ pass rush needs.