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Raiders expected to begin overhaul on defense at NFL draft

Updated April 24, 2019 - 8:38 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Months of rumors, reports, mock drafts and quarterback workouts have not altered expectation as to how the Raiders will approach their No. 4 overall pick Thursday. That is, barring a trade, the belief is they’ll bolster their front seven, selecting a defender who can rush the passer.

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams.

Houston’s Ed Oliver.

These are two names to monitor in the NFL draft, where talent acquisition is an annual crapshoot. But in this one, the Raiders know they can’t afford to miss.

Coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have a rare opportunity to upgrade their roster’s foundation. With three first-round picks and four in the top 35, no other team possesses more firepower atop the draft. These seven rounds and the Saturday signing period for undrafted free agents are a critical chance to help restore the Raiders into a proper playoff contender.

Thursday is an opportune time to add a push rusher.

A quality one in his prime seldom reaches free agency. This year, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford and Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark were franchise tagged before being traded to their current teams. Chicago Bears defensive end Khalil Mack followed a similar path in 2018. DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney and Grady Jarrett also were tagged in March.

Adding a game-wrecking rusher generally requires a draft pick or trade.

The Raiders are perfectly situated for the former.

At 6 feet, 2 inches and 287 pounds, Oliver is an undersized but explosive prospect. He drew laughs at the combine in March when detailing his passion and experience with horses. The anecdote tied to his mentality toward not being the largest player in the football trenches.

“The first horse (I had) was named Caledonia,” Oliver said. “I loved that horse, and we got another horse named Oreo. I got into riding Oreo, and, I swear, that horse tried to kill me a couple of times. Fighting with that horse, really, the reason I became fearless and why I can go up against 6-5 and 300-pound guys is that it’s a walk in the park after you’ve fought with a 1,000-pound animal. I ain’t worried about no 300 pounds.”

Oliver is attending the draft in Nashville, Tennessee.

He told NBC Sports on Wednesday that he and new Raiders defensive line coach Brentson Buckner have a “special relationship.”

“He’s as cool as a fan,” Oliver said. “I can say that coming straight from my heart. He’s as cool as a fan. I’d love working with him.”

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther stands to receive much needed help.

On offense, as many as three starters — at running back, guard and tight end — could be added from this draft. The Raiders do not have a selection from No. 36 through No. 105.

A chance to trade back and fill the gap with at least one extra selection could be enticing. It is unclear, however, if that opportunity will present itself.

“What we keep talking about upstairs is we better (draft) four foundation football players,” Mayock said this month. “We define foundation as talent and football character. That’s what we want, guys who love the game. If we don’t move up, down or anywhere, we better get four of those guys.”

That effort is expected to start on defense.

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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