ALAMEDA -– The Raiders doubled down on the defensive line during Friday’s NFL Draft, using picks in the second and third rounds to bolster an area already featuring talent able to stop the run and rush the passer.
The Raiders needed more.
The Silver and Black took the best players available when on the clock, adding Illinois interior defensive lineman Jihad Ward at No. 44 overall and Michigan State edge rusher Shilique Calhoun at No. 75.
“We feel good about fortifying the front,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said after Friday’s picks. “That’s what we were able to do today, add strength and depth and competition to the front.”
The Raiders didn’t come into the draft’s second day with goal that in mind, but that’s how the draft panned out.
“It wasn’t like we orchestrated to come out with that being the case,” Del Rio said. “We have a lot of areas where we feel like we can strengthen, add competition to the roster, add depth and it just has worked out in that way.”
Ward has shown more potential than college production, a relatively inexperienced yet versatile defensive lineman who needs coaching to blossom. Calhoun is the opposite, a three-time All-American with 27 sacks and 44 tackles for loss to his college credit. Del Rio says he’s more of a edge rusher at strongside linebacker or the LEO spot, and could be a key rotational pass rusher behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Quality depth wasn’t added out of fear over Mario Edwards Jr.’s future. Last year’s second-round pick is dealing with a mysterious neck injury that has cause the team to remain vague about his future. That begs a question. Did concern over Edwards Jr.’s health impact this draft?
Del Rio’s answer was simple and direct.
The Raiders are happy to add depth and strength to this defense, which Del Rio rightly believes is in need of more upgrades. While the starting lineup looks solid, quality depth is lacking at several spots.
“You’ve looked at our depth chart, right? I mean, we still have a lot of work to do on our football team,” Del Rio said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to better ourselves and we’re going to continue to work at it any way we can.
I think the hype surrounding where we are and where we see ourselves as a football team may be in two different places, but we see a lot of work in front of us and opportunity to make it much more competitive at many spots on the roster. That’s really (true) in all three phases.”
The Raiders have focused on one phase, maybe two, to this point. They’ve added three defensive players in three rounds, all of whom Del Rio expects to contribute right away.
First-round safety Karl Joseph should be a starting strong safety in 2016. Ward could be a rotational interior pass rusher and an edge setter in the base defense. The Raiders need someone with Calhoun’s talent, especially with Aldon Smith suspended until at least November.
More immediate help is needed, though there are few glaring needs remaining. Running back could be a target. Adding another cornerback might be a priority. Offensive tackle might be a fit during Saturday’s final four rounds.
“We select these guys, and they’re prospects with the opportunity,” Del Rio said. “We will sign some after the draft and have some undrafted (players) come in and really give them the same opportunity to compete. We’ll (hash out the depth chart) on the field.”