ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Reggie McKenzie was an inside linebacker before he got into the evaluation business and became the Oakland Raiders general manager.
Jack Del Rio played inside linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons and went to a Pro Bowl before getting hired by McKenzie as Raiders coach in 2015.
Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. won three Super Bowl rings playing just about every linebacker position in a 13-year NFL career.
After acquiring running back Marshawn Lynch on Wednesday, five of the Raiders’ six offseason additions have been on the offensive side of the ball.
Surely the Raiders will go hard on defense with their eight selections in this year’s draft, which begins Thursday night, right? Maybe even right off the bat with their first-round pick at No. 24 overall?
“Don’t be surprised if I draft all offensive players. How about that?” McKenzie said with a Cheshire Cat grin last week.
Then the laughter died down.
“It’s a good defensive draft. Hopefully we can [draft a] couple of defensive players that can help our team. We just want to help this football team, regardless of who comes at a spot, whether it’s first or seventh round. And hopefully, we get some good players after the draft [as free agents]. That’s the plan. We just want to keep stocking and let the chips fall.”
At No. 24, this is the latest the Raiders are picking in the first round, barring a trade, since 2003. McKenzie made franchise-altering moves at No. 5 and No. 36 with Khalil Mack and Derek Carr in 2014 and No. 4 with Amari Cooper in 2015.
“The one thing that’s been more difficult, you have no idea who’s coming down at 24,” McKenzie said. “When you’re picking four or five, you can have a clue, a few players that you can pick from. The draft is a funny thing. Players that you don’t think may be at 24, could be there sitting right in front of your face.
“Then you never know how trades go. It’s a different thing. But when you’re down that low in comparison to where we have been the last few years, it’s a different approach.”
McKenzie subscribes to the “best-player-available” philosophy, which is a luxury generally afforded to winning teams. And with the Raiders coming off a 12-4 season and their first playoff appearance since 2002, that makes sense.
It’s just that Oakland had the No. 26 total defense last year and, again, have needs at inside linebacker, the interior of the defensive line and in the secondary. Yes, that came despite spending much money last offseason on cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson, using their first-round pick on strong safety Karl Joseph and watching veteran free agent pickup Reggie Nelson go to the Pro Bowl.
“This is the time of the year where it’s a lot of fun, where we spend a lot of time, effort and energy evaluating these prospects,” Del Rio said.
“It’s an inexact science and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a little bit like Christmas for a coach. You get players and they’re like gifts, and the better you select and the better the impact they make, the better your team becomes. Reggie’s done a great job of bringing in some good core players that are good people and good teammates. We look to add a few more.”
Defensive players who could be there at No. 24 include…
Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell
Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis
Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham
Washington cornerback Kevin King
Washington free safety Budda Baker
Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu
“I will not hesitate ... to move up a little bit to get an impact player that we feel is on our board,” McKenzie said. “If we have to move up a little bit, I will not hesitate.”
“We just want more impact players,” McKenzie said. “You can never have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball and depth on both sides.
“We’re not just going to plug holes. ... We’re going to get some good football players, regardless of who we have here.”