Editor’s note: Scott Bair will provide daily content previewing the NFL draft, including position breakdowns, news stories, mock drafts and more. Here, he analyzes draft prospects on the defensive line, and whether the Raiders should select one.
Dan Williams and Justin Ellis make a formidable interior run defense. Whether you call them “Meat and Potatoes,” or their preferred “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” these big boys can clog up the middle. They provide great push on rushing downs and can limit what offenses can do on the interior.
The Raiders typically move other big men inside on passing downs, where Mario Edwards Jr. and Denico Autry activate rushing the passer. The Raiders could use more athletic threats in the middle, and maybe some depth in run defense as they head towards 2016.
They need versatile talent with size to operate a hybrid defensive scheme that could often look like a 3-4 or a 5-2 with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin attacking off the edge. Whether they play end or tackle, big players with power and some shimmy could help in those situations and help create a ferocious front.
Who’s here: Dan Williams, Justin Ellis, Mario Edwards Jr., Denico Autry, Leon Orr, Stacy McGee, Shelby Harris
Draft needs: The Raiders need different, often versatile skill sets to operate along the defensive line. They need a solid pass rusher on the inside, someone who wouldn’t be a liability against the run. Edwards Jr. fits that mold, but lingering uncertainty regarding his neck injury adds importance to drafting additional linemen.
Good fits: This draft is deep at defensive tackle, with plenty of talent in the later rounds. But, if possible, the Raiders could go for one of the best.
Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins could be around when the Raiders select at No. 14 overall, and would provide a real threat on the interior. He’s surprisingly spry at nearly 300 pounds, with explosiveness and power to damage on the inside. Analysts say there’s some technical work to be done, but he’s good a shedding blocks and making plays in the backfield. He could make a quick impact in certain situations and create trouble elsewhere. He’s often attached to New Orleans at No. 12, and might not make it to the Raiders, though they like his skill set.
Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson is also an option at No. 14, and could be a force against the run and pass.
There are a few more if the Raiders manage to trade down some in the first round. Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche is an intriguing talent with some question marks. Mississippi State’s Chris Jones is also an interior force, especially against the run.
Keep an eye on Florida’s Jonathan Bullard. He’s a versatile talent who can play end and tackle and is comfortable in multiple schemes. He’s 6-foot-3, 285 pounds and can be a wrecking ball when he gets going. He’s another trade down prospect that would fit the team’s scheme.
UCLA’s Kenny Clark is a second-round talent who can play several spots, though he’s primarily a tackle. Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day is a second-day prospect worth exploring.
Pro Football Focus suggests that Northwestern’s Dean Lowry could be a solid Raiders fit later in the draft. At 6-foot-6, 296 pounds, he could play both inside and outside.