Raiders Blog

Raider Ramble’s Top 16 Edge Defender Prospects

With the 2020 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, the Las Vegas Raiders are putting the finishing touches on their draft board. Here at the Raider Ramble, it is no different. Over the next few days, final rankings of every position group will be released, with edge defenders seventh on the list.

Here are the previous entries:

Raiders Blog: Current Edge Defender Situation

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Silver and Black acquired two bookend edge defenders. With the fourth overall pick, they selected former collegiate Ted Hendricks Award Winner Clelin Ferrell from Clemson University. During his rookie season, Ferrell displayed he was an impact run defender.

In terms of rushing the passer though, he was inconsistent but showed glimpses of what he is capable of.

Later in the draft, the Raiders selected Eastern Michigan University’s Maxx Crosby, who displayed he can consistently rush the passer.

The two rookies combined for 14.5 sacks in their first season with the Raiders. In 2020, they will be playing alongside newly acquired defensive end Carl Nassib. Similar to Crosby’s, Nassib’s motor runs white hot in passing situations.

Arden Key is the last member of the group, and looks to improve in finishing plays. As he enters year three, this season could decide whether he will be involved in the team’s long-term plans or not.

As of now, the team has three quality edge defenders and a wildcard in Key. In a league full of talented quarterbacks, the problem of having too many pass rushers should be a welcomed one. With that being said, the upcoming draft class offers a plethora of both flair and grit.

The Top 16 Edge Defender Prospects

Considering the Raiders have more pressing needs than an edge defender, it is unlikely that the team opts to select one in the first round. The middle rounds of the draft, however, offer competent role players that bear the upside of future starters if Las Vegas performs its due diligence at the position.

 

Related: Raiders should avoid Grant Delpit in the first round

Chase Young – Ohio State Buckeyes

Arriving at number one on the list is Ohio State’s Chase Young, who has been highly touted as one of the best prospects at the position in years. He is the definition of ultimate athletic talent that maybe appears once a lifetime.

Unless the Raiders have plans to trade up, Chase is out of the question for the Raiders as a top three selection overall.

Zack Baun* – Wisconsin Badgers

At number three, tentatively, is Wisconsin’s Zack Baun. He is highlighted in red on the chart above due to a diluted urine sample at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

Ultimately, it is unsure if teams will view that result in a negative light. If they do, his draft stock could take a plunge. Having said that, his performances on the field will make it hard for any team to ignore as his explosiveness and tenacity are evident on every play.

Should there be a significant fallout from the diluted sample, the Raiders may seize the opportunity to acquire his services.

Khalid Kareem – Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame’s Khalid Kareem is 12th on the list. He falls into the range of third round selections and plays with a peculiar physicality.

Kareem also shows the versatility to play at a multitude of positions on the defensive front and still be highly effective.

The Notre Dame 2019 defensive captain’s tenacity on the football field also matched his aptitude level in the classroom. He maintained a 3.75 GPA through four years at the collegiate level. That type of knowledge may prove to be invaluable for the Silver and Black as they look to acquire more talent along the defensive front.

Alex Highsmith – Charlotte 49ers

Highsmith hails from one of the smallest football programs in Division I. Yet there is little about his game that indicates that he is a lesser prospective talent.

If you carry the belief that he only produced against inferior competition, think again.

Highsmith was a walk on to the Charlotte 49ers football program that recorded 14 sacks in his senior season and 20 total in his collegiate career. He is a football player with a basketball background and has a stockpile of untapped potential combined with plenty pass rush moves. Raiders defensive line coach Rod Marinelli is arguably the best position coach in the NFL to unlock that potential. Look for the team to possibly target him in either the third or fourth round.

Kenny Willekes – Michigan State Spartans

The last player on this list has similar traits to those of Crosby. Relentless effort is something that cannot be taught and Willekes refuses to give up on any play.

In addition to his relentless motor, Willekes has a tendency to neutralize plays before they have a chance to develop.

Like Highsmith, Willekes started out his collegiate career as a walk-on. He did not receive any scholarships from division one football programs coming out of high school. He walked onto the Michigan State football program, where he initially played fullback, linebacker and tight end as a redshirt freshman. Over the course of four seasons, he amassed the following awards.

  • 2018
    • Second team All-American
    • First team All-Big Ten
    • Big Ten DL of the Year
    • Team MVP
    • Led Big Ten in TFL
  • 2019
    • Second team All-Big Ten
    • Burlsworth Trophy (nation’s top walk-on)
    • Team captain
    • Team MVP

Las Vegas may take a flier on him in the fourth round as they did with Crosby last year. The potential grouping of Crosby, Ferrell, Key, Nassib, and Willekes may lead to nightmares for opposing quarterbacks that head coach Jon Gruden dreams of.

Raiders Blog: In Review

Overall, the Raiders have a young and promising group of edge defenders. There is always a need for quality players that can both rush the passer and defend the run in today’s NFL. It is improbable that the team selects one in the first round, but the middle rounds of the upcoming draft offer prospects that fit the organization’s defensive scheme. Good pass rushers are hard to find, but the Raiders should not have any qualms about it if they draft any of the prospects highlighted above.

You mtay Also Like: What if the Raiders had drafted Isaiah Oliver instead of P.J. Hall?

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