2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Defensive Line (Part 1)
Apr 26, 2013; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie during the 2013 draft press conference at Oakland Raiders headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
While the Raiders may have more immediate needs at some other positions, no position group as a whole could use more depth than the defensive line. Last year, the Raider d-line was a patchwork of old veterans (Tuck, Smith, Woodley), surprising waiver wire and scrap heap signings (Mayowa, Wilson), an emergent rookie (Ellis) and one tenured player who appeared to be in decline (Sims). While there is some promising young talent in the rotation, the defensive line must get younger and deeper in order to anchor the type of defense that Jack Del Rio will want to run. Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker, understands the value of a good d-line: he played with John Randle in Minnesota, he had Kris Jenkins and Brenston Buckner anchoring his 2002 Panthers front, and Marcus Stroud and Big John Henderson were his long-time defensive big boys in Jacksonville. He has had Terrance Knighton solidifying the middle of his defense in Denver for the past two years.
Del Rio and McKenzie will want to add depth to that defensive line, and there has been some noise about Terrance Knighton following his former Jacksonville and Denver coach and becoming a major part of the Raiders notation at the nose tackle spot alongside Justin Ellis. There has also been some talk about Jason Pierre-Paul coming over in free agency to join his former teammate Justin Tuck and bring his 4-3 rush end talents to Oakland, to likely start in a spot that Benson Mayowa played solidly in after an injury to LaMarr Woodley last year. But that still leaves the 3-tech or 3-4 weakside end spot manned by an aging Antonio Smith and the strongside end spot manned by an aging Justin Tuck. Both played well in the latter half of last season, but both are nearing the end of their careers and their contracts with Oakland.
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This year’s draft is replete with defensive line talent for all tastes and philosophies. There are monster nose tackle types, tweener edge rusher types who could be 4-3 rush ends or 3-4 rush linebackers, versatile big men who could play 3-tech tackle, 3-4 end or 4-3 stud end, and even a couple of players who could line up nearly anywhere on a defensive front. With Jack Del Rio coming from three years of running a highly versatile Denver defense that used linemen and some outside linebackers very interchangeably and with great success, versatility and diversity should be the watchword for the Raiders defensive line.
There is a long list of players that Del Rio and GM Reggie McKenzie may be looking at, I have narrowed it down to 10. Here are the first five on that list:
Next: DL Prospect to Watch: Leonard Williams