It was no surprise where the Oakland Raiders paid most attention in the NFL draft.
After his team struggled last season on defense and then made most of its pre-draft offseason additions on offense, general manager Reggie McKenzie went heavy on defensive players in the draft.
Oakland used its top three picks on defenders to strengthen the secondary and interior line before finally addressing its most glaring need by drafting Wake Forest inside linebacker Marquel Lee with a fifth-round pick Saturday.
In all, the Raiders used six of their nine picks on defensive players, with Lee, first-round cornerback Gareon Conley, second-round safety Obi Melifonwu and third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes all expected to press for significant playing time.
“The way it fell, we got a lot of players at the end of the day that it looks like we needed,” McKenzie said. “We feel like we got a lot of good players with huge talent levels.”
The Raiders needed plenty of help on defense after finishing near the bottom of the league in all significant categories last season. Oakland finished last in the league with 25 sacks, allowed more 20 yard receptions than any team and gave up 4.5 yards per carry.
Here are some other takeaways from the draft:
FILLING A NEED
Lee fills perhaps the biggest need on Oakland’s roster as a middle linebacker who can help shore up the run defense. Perry Riley played that role last season but is a free agent and has not signed a deal. The Raiders haven’t added anyone else at that spot and hope Lee can do the job. He had 20 tackles for loss last season and is expected to compete right away with Ben Heeney for a starting spot.
The first two days of the draft were about balancing risk and reward. Oakland used its first-round pick on Conley, who was recently accused of rape but has not been charged. Conley says he has passed a lie detector test and will meet with police Monday in Cleveland. The Raiders said they researched the situation and felt comfortable taking a player who might have been off the board without the accusations.
Oakland took a different risk in the third round with Vanderdoes, who struggled keeping his weight down last season and was not overly impressive on film. Vanderdoes has lost 40 pounds since the end of the season and Oakland believes it will get the player who was much more impressive early in his career.
The Raiders started day three by taking Florida left tackle David Sharpe in the fourth round. There were questions raised about Sharpe’s vision after a report that he was legally blind in his right eye. Sharpe denied the report but said he does have blurry vision out of that eye because of a cataract removal when he was a kid.
“I’ve been battling that since I was young. But it doesn’t affect my play or vision or anything,” he said. “I’m not blind.”
McKenzie finished the day with four seventh-round picks after dealing a sixth-rounder to Arizona for two picks in the final round. Oakland tool Washington State safety Shalom Luani, Alabama State tackle Jylan Ware, North Carolina running back Elijah Hood and Toledo defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.
Perhaps the biggest acquisition in draft week by the Raiders came the day before picks started to be made. Oakland swapped 2018 draft picks with Seattle on Wednesday to acquire formerly retired running back and Oakland native Marshawn Lynch. If Lynch can regain the form he had before retiring following the 2015 season, the Raiders will have the power back they need to team with smaller backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
“There’s going to be questions about how much is left in his tank and things like that, and we’re going to find out,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody else be more excited or pleased to be joining a team.”
VIVA LAS VEGAS
The Raiders made their day three picks from their future home in Las Vegas. NFL owners approved the team’s move to Sin City for the 2020 season, but the team will likely remain in Oakland for at least the next two years. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval announced the fourth-round pick in front of the Las Vegas sign with Raiders cheerleaders right behind him. NFL Network then didn’t show the fifth-round pick live because anchor Rich Eisen said it was too “harsh” to Oakland fans to show the picks from Las Vegas.