Listen to Jon Gruden closely and long enough and one can get a taste of what his Oakland Raiders roster will look like. Or at least, what the head coach wants it to look like. Last week’s NFL owners meetings in Orlando was no different.
Gruden pinpointed an issue that plagued the team since it took Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick back in 2014.
“If we can get a better inside rush, a consistent inside rush, a dominant inside rusher, you’ll see the best of this guy,” Gruden said when referring to Mack, the Raiders best defender.
The coach went on to specifically identify defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr., but the statement that followed can be applied to anyone.
“If we can get that inside rush going, that’s what Warren Sapp did for Simeon Rice,” Gruden said, “It’s hard for a quarterback to step up and if a quarterback can’t step up, these great pass rushers can feast.”
The Raiders (and its fanbase) have been famished for an inside disruptor. And this mock draft has Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie nabbing one with Oakland’s first pick.
Round 1: 10th overall
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Previous: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Matters of the heart haven’t swayed McKenzie from taking a prospect in round one (see cornerback DJ Hayden). After having been cleared of a heart ailment, this former Michigan Wolverine is armed with a lethal first step and a barrage of pass rush moves to make an impact as an interior destroyer. Hurst’s motor is without question as he is relentless in his pursuit to get to the quarterback. Gruden expects the Raiders to run a 4-3 one-gap scheme similar to what the Bengals ran and Hurst would play the Geno Atkins role. (Vita Vea would play the Domata Peko role if he’s chosen instead).
Round 2: 41st overall
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Previous: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia
Gruden identified the Raiders secondary as a big weak spot as well and the team nabs a ballhawk corner who slides out of the first round. The former Hawkeye isn’t a supreme tackler, he does bring premium ball skills to the fold. And with the Raiders secondary’s inability to consistently snag interceptions, Jackson’s addition is more than welcome.
Round 3: 75th overall
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State
Previous: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Gruden noted he loves several of the running back prospects available in this draft and he doesn’t even have to leave the state of California to nab a prime prospect. This former Aztec ball carrier mixes speed and power into a neat package as he’s able to take the handoff and apt to catch a pass. He opened eyes at the Senior Bowl.
Round 4: 110th overall
Shaquem Griffin, LB, University of Central Florida
Previous: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
The Raiders need playmakers on defense and the former Knight made more with one hand than many prospects do with both appendages. Blessed with scintillating speed (one that would’ve made former owner Al Davis draft him in the second round), Griffin has the moxie to be a force against the run and athleticism to be a nuisance in pass coverage.