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Raiders eyeing elite cornerbacks, defensive tackle at combine

INDIANAPOLIS — The head coach in Antonio Pierce understands the Raiders need to land a franchise-altering quarterback who can compete with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow in the NFL.

The former NFL linebacker and defensive assistant coach in Pierce also knows a surefire way to slow those guys down is with a dominant defense.

“It’s gotta start with your defense,” Pierce said. “You gotta deal with the quarterback and the offensive coordinator.”

Don’t be surprised if the Raiders end up selecting one of the top defensive prospects with the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft if they can’t use that pick to move up and get their quarterback.

Targets include an interior defensive lineman or cornerback. Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy, Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell and Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold are among the standouts the Raiders monitored this week.

Murphy could slot inside as an active, physical complement to edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Malcolm Koonce and second-year defensive lineman Tyree Wilson, whom Pierce envisions as a Justin Tuck-type player who can line up inside and outside.

“You know we got some ends, and those boys showed up,” Pierce said. “You know what you’re gonna get from Maxx. Malcolm Koonce has come into his own, and Tyree will be just fine. But how good would it look if we put a couple more pieces in the middle of that defense, man?”

During his on-field workout at the combine, the 6-foot-1-inch, 300-pound Murphy flashed some freakish athletic ability by blazing a 4.87-second 40-yard dash, along with a 33-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-3-inch broad jump.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Murphy registered an athleticism score of 85 this week, fourth overall among interior defensive lineman but only two points off the best mark overall.

Coupled with his game production, he is regarded as the top defensive tackle prospect in the draft and is slotted to be selected in the top half of the first round.

The Raiders have sincere interest.

“To play with a guy like Maxx Crosby, that would be crazy,” Murphy said.

The addition of Murphy, or a similar player, would help free up Crosby on the perimeter.

“And now Maxx doesn’t have to run as far on the outside, because that quarterback, he can’t step up anymore,” Pierce said. “Because you’ve got inside, B gap pressure and force.”

That fits with Pierce’s vision for his defense.

“I’d love to see us get some badass dudes that are heavy-handed, physical, that play the game the way I see it being played,” Pierce said.

If not defensive tackle, Pierce also envisions creating a young, three-headed cornerback monster by adding a dynamic partner for Jack Jones on the outside and Nate Hobbs in the slot.

Jones, whom the Raiders picked up off waivers from the Patriots in mid-November, was a revelation over his seven games in Las Vegas, providing lockdown coverage and returning two interceptions for touchdowns.

“Confidence. Swag. Anticipation. Lifted the whole group,” Pierce said.

Hobbs has been one of the best slot corner in the league when healthy.

“If we can just keep him on the field for 17 games, probably one of the best star nickels out there,” Pierce said. “Because he can cover, he’s physical, he can tackle. Competitive.”

Pierce said adding a third standout to that duo — with second-year prospect Jakorian Bennett and pending free agent Amik Robertson still in the mix — could dramatically affect the defense.

“Do we gotta add pieces? Yeah, we gotta add pieces,” Pierce said. “And the pieces we want are guys that want to compete, short-term memory. We want the alphas. I want those guys out there that are extremely confident.”

Arnold made an immediate impression on Pierce when he met with the Raiders this week. And if it’s confidence and passion Pierce is looking for, Arnold made sure to let him know he will bring those elements.

“When I walked in the room, he asked if I’m an energetic person,” Arnold said. “I was like, ‘You know I am. Cut on the tape.’ ”

Pierce was impressed.

“He was like, ‘Man, I like you already,’ ” Arnold said. “So it went very well.”

In his final season at Alabama, Arnold registered 63 tackles (40 solo), 12 pass breakups and five interceptions to earn first-team All-America honors. He ran a 4.50 40-yard dash this week, with a 37-inch vertical jump and 10-9 broad jump.

Mitchell reaffirmed himself as one of the top cornerbacks in the draft with a spectacular showing this week.

His 4.33-second 40-yard dash was second at cornerback to Clemson’s Nate Wiggins, who is projected to be a top-10 pick. Mitchell also added a 1.51-second 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump.

Mitchell met with the Raiders at the Senior Bowl and the combine.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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