Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will analyze each position group leading up to Raiders training camp, which starts on July 29.
The Raiders prefer size, strength and versatility along the defensive line. Their players have those three traits in abundance.
Mario Edwards Jr. exemplifies that fact, with an ability to play end, tackle or stand-up edge rusher in a pinch. Second-round pick Jihad Ward has similar physical gifts, though development must translate that into NFL production.
Denico Autry falls into a similar category. While Dan Williams and Justin Ellis are primarily nose tackles, they can play in two-man tackle sets or as the sole center of the defensive line.
That gives the Raiders options up front, something they need using multiple defensive fronts. Edwards Jr., for example, should play end in the base package and move inside on passing downs, as he often did last season. Autry and Ward could do the same. They can also rush from an end spot but inside edge rushers must still be productive, often taking up blockers to free playmakers at linebacker, safety and off the edge.
As a note, players like Khalil Mack, who could easily be classified as a defensive end, will be discussed with other primary edge rushers, who play standing up and along the defensive line.
- Mario Edwards Jr.
- Dan Williams
- Justin Ellis
- Denico Autry
- Jihad Ward
- Stacy McGee
- Darius Latham
- Leon Orr
- Branden Jackson
- Greg Townsend
- Drew Iddings
1. Is Mario Edwards Jr. back to normal?
Mario Edwards Jr. developed quickly under the Raiders’ watchful eye, learning to practice hard, play fast and make an impact during his rookie year. Edwards Jr. had 42 tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles as a regular presence in an opposing backfield. Then he suffered a significant, somewhat mysterious neck injury in a Week 15 loss to Green Bay that kept him out most of the offseason program. He started full participation during minicamp and should be full-go in training camp. Still, neck injuries are scary. Edwards Jr. said he’s back to being himself and is ready to build on his rookie season. If he can do that, he can be a dangerous player up front.
2. How will Jihad Ward fit in?
This year’s second-round pick is viewed by draft analysts as a developmental prospect, someone relatively green to his sport and his position. There’s little doubt Ward is an athletic freak at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, and coaches said he impressed during the offseason program. Training camp and practices in pads are the next stage for Ward. He’ll settle into a role on practice and play merits. If he’s a rotational lineman, the Raiders can handle that. If he earns more activity and is productive, that would be a boon for the Silver and Black.
3. Can Williams and Ellis impact the interior run defense?
The Raiders signed Dan Williams in 2014 to be their big man in the middle, to plug gaps an anchor their run defense. He was strong as a run defender last year, when he played every game for the second straight year. Justin Ellis was injured at times last year, but is a solid sidekick to Williams and a fill in at nose tackle as well when the Raiders need one man in the middle. The pair weigh a combined 685 pounds, and should impact a run defense that ranked No. 13 last year and strives to be dominant in 2016.