Getty Images Linebacker Marquel Lee hopes to produce at a level higher than previous linebacker picks.
Five things we learned about the 2017 Raiders based on how their draft ended Saturday:
1. Match-ups in the secondary are everything.
Far too often in 2016, the Raiders either made mistakes in communication or simply didn’t have athletes with the right size, speed and talent to deal with the diversity of passing offenses in the NFL.
Hence the picks of cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round (Ohio State, No 24) and safety Obi Melifonwu in the second (UConn, No. 56).
Conley, assuming he has no legal issues, instantly becomes the slot corner DJ Hayden never became. Melifonwu will be counted upon to shadow tight ends, an obvious are of concern seemingly for the last decade.
Whether the two are starters or not is irrelevant, given the way sub packages are deployed.
Melifonwu’s arrival means Karl Joseph, last year’s first round pick at No. 14, can be relieved of some duties against tight ends which are considerably bigger than he is.
2. Marquel Lee needs to break the mold of a Reggie McKenzie linebacker.
Only the Raiders general manager knows if the Raiders would have struck for Haason Reddick (No. 15 to Arizona), or Jarrad Davis No. 21 to Detroit) if they had been available.
Given McKenzie’s track record, probably not. History has shown McKenzie is mostly a Day 3 guy when it comes to the position he and Jack Del Rio played as NFL starters. (Khalil Mack was an edge player, not a true linebacker).
McKenzie took Miles Burris in 2012 (fourth round), Sio Moore in 2013 (third round), Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball 2015 (both in the fifth round) and Shilique Calhoun and Cory James last year (third round and sixth round).
Not exactly a Murderer’s Row.
Lee, a fifth-round choice from Wake Forest, will get a legitimate shot to start in the middle of hte Raiders defense.
Perry Riley Jr. remains on hold just in case.
3. Smallish offensive linemen need not apply.
The Raiders didn’t take an offensive player until 128 players were off the board, and to no one’s surprise, it was an offensive lineman. Forget those pull-and-trap sub-300-pound guys. The beef is where it’s at.
Florida’s David Sharp is 6-foot-6 and 357 pounds. That’s even big by Raiders standards, and they already have one of the NFL’s heaviest starting fronts with Donald Penn (315 pounds), Kelechi Osemele (330), Rodney Hudson (300), Gabe Jackson (335) and either Austin Howard (335) or Marshall Newhouse (330).
The hope is that with Penn playing probably two more seasons, Sharp can develop into the blind side protector for Derek Carr. Jylan Ware, a seventh-round pick, is 6-foot-8, 310 pounds and may need a year on the practice squad to bulk up.
4. The plan on getting interior push will largely come from within.
Third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes of UCLA has already dropped 40 pounds and could be a rotational factor early in the defensive interior. Seventh-rounder Trevyon Hester of Toledo will also get his shot.
But what Del Rio is counting on is a step-up year from oft-injured Mario Edwards Jr., a quantum leap by second-year man Jihad Ward, improvement from Justin Ellis, and a Denico Autry who looks more like the player he was in 2015 than 2016.
5. Elijah Hood could be a factor if Marshawn Lynch is running on empty.
Probably the only person more excited to join the Raiders than Lynch was Hood, who answered questions in between tears of joy in a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
Hood can hardly wait to begin asking Lynch questions and observing him in the meeting room. But the fact is, if Lynch looks like a guy who hit the career wall, Hood could be of some use sooner rather than later.
At 6-foot, 220 pounds, Hood is a power runner runner who like Lynch would also be a complement to Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. He was a man among boys in high school, breaking 3,000 yards in both his junior and senior years.
At North Carolina, Hood gained 1,463 yards in 2015 on just 219 carries. He played in a two-back system last year and his numbers fell off, but this was a flyer worth taking.
As nice of a story as it is to have Lynch back in Oakland, it turns sour the moment Beast Mode gets hurt or has lost effectiveness.