Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp, which begins on July 31.
Who they have: Denico Autry, Shelby Harris, Benson Mayowa, Mario Edwards Jr., Justin Tuck, Max Valles, Gary Wilkins, C.J. Wilson
Who they lost: LaMarr Woodley
Looking back: The Raiders had just 22 sacks last season, with but a handful coming from the traditional 4-3 end spot. Veteran Justin Tuck led this team and position group with five sacks. Only a few more came from defensive ends. Woodley was a real disappointment. He had five tackles and no sacks before being placed on injured reserve with a torn biceps.
Overall outlook: The Raiders needed an upgrade at this position, but didn’t find the established upgrade most expected. General manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t add a veteran free agent – the class of 4-3 ends wasn’t great – but drafted versatile defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round. He isn’t the speed rusher that strikes fear in opposing tackles, but he’s a strong athlete with potential who should help against the run and be an interior pass rusher. Veteran C.J. Wilson can also help inside and out against the run.
Tuck is in great shape and should be a consistent presence on the outside. His protégé, strongside linebacker Khalil Mack, should be an honorary member of this group. Mack should play end in sub packages, and could be more of a down lineman if other linebackers show they deserve snaps. Tuck, Edwards and Benson Mayowa must perform to divert attention away from Mack and give No. 52 more favorable matchups, whether he’s playing end or linebacker. That will be key to creating a solid pass rush to pressure a quarterback and help a young group of cornerbacks.
Camp competition: Edwards Jr. has a chance to earn a significant role during training camp. The Raiders would benefit from his rookie production, though quality play can’t be assumed from a young player with inconsistent college game tape. Tuck will be a starting end in the base defense, while Mayowa and Edwards will compete for the other spot.
Bottom line: Tuck will anchor one defensive end spot in the base defense. Edwards Jr. is an enigma, but I believe he’ll be a heavy contributor in the base defense. Mayowa can add some speed off the edge in the sub package opposite Mack, with Edwards and Tuck on the interior. Rookie Max Valles has speed off the edge but is a raw talent and should take time to develop. Don’t rule out additions to this group after roster cuts should the incumbents struggle getting to the passer.