Raiders would break trend Thursday if they draft linebacker

Updated April 22, 2018 - 4:26 pm

OAKLAND, Calif. — There is little doubt the Raiders could use linebacker help.

The real question is how high a draft premium they are willing to place on it.

General manager Reggie McKenzie already has made one major investment at the position this offseason, signing Tahir Whitehead to a three-year, $19 million contract. Emmanuel Lamur and Kyle Wilber were added on more modest deals. The team also has been in discussions to re-sign NaVorro Bowman, who remains a free agent.

Drafting a linebacker early, though, hasn’t exactly been part of his profile.

Oakland has selected five linebackers in the past three drafts. None were before the fifth round.

In 2015, McKenzie took Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball in the fifth and Max Valles in the sixth. In the 2016 sixth round, it was Cory James. Last year in the fifth, it was Marquel Lee. Only James and Lee are still with the club. Nicholas Morrow proved a find, too, as a 2017 undrafted free agent.

McKenzie appears willing to lean on his evaluation ability as a former NFL linebacker.

So does new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.

“I always tell the players, one of the things before I became the coordinator in Cincinnati I was a linebackers coach, and I was always one to defer in the draft,” Guenther said in January. “If we had a better corner or rusher, to take one of those two before the linebacker. We made a living in Cincinnati of getting guys as free agents, guys who were maybe former safeties, small-school guys. I mean, I can go down the list.

“We had Dan Skuta. I went to Grand Valley State to work him out. He was a nose guard at Grand Valley State, and we made him a linebacker. … We had (Vincent) Vinny Rey, a free agent from Duke that nobody wanted that played at a high level for us, still playing at a high level. We had Emmanuel Lamur. … Having the background from a small school that I have, I really look at those levels. … I’m always up for guys like that. I don’t care where he comes from. It all depends on what you do when you get here. That’s what matters.”

Top linebackers in the draft:

■ Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech, 6 feet, 5 inches, 253 pounds: Freaky combination of size and speed. Team-high 109 tackles in 2017 with 14 for loss, 5½ sacks, three forced fumbles.

■ Roquan Smith, Georgia, 6-1, 236: Played wide receiver in high school. Sideline-to-sideline defender capable of shadowing receivers in man coverage. Tad undersized but instinctive.

■ Rashaan Evans, Alabama, 6-3, 232: Developed behind Reuben Foster. Versatile. Can rush off edge, be trusted in coverage and fill lanes against run. Had six sacks and 73 tackles, a team-high 14 of which were for loss.

Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State, 6-4, 256: Voted top defender in Mountain West Conference as first-year starter. Had 12 tackles (three for loss), a sack and forced fumble in Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon in December.

■ Lorenzo Carter, Georgia, 6-6, 250: Acclaimed as prep prospect. Rangy athlete who totaled 15 career sacks. Built to play outside in Bruce Irvin-type role. Blocked field goal in Rose Bowl.

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

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

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