Raiders hope trio of draft picks can help Mack and Irvin

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Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin have done good work the past two years. The Raiders edge rushers have combined for 36 sacks over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, with efficient pressure rates.

The Raiders were ineffective reaching the quarterback despite those efforts. Mack and Irvin were the primary providers, without much quarterback hunting help. The Silver and Black had just 19.5 sacks attributed to others, with 13 attributed to those no longer on the team.

While sacks aren’t the only sign of effective quarterback pressure, the numbers above illustrate a greater point: Mack and Irvin need some help.

“It was a priority, yeah,” head coach Jon Gruden said Friday. “It was a major priority.”

That’s why he called in the cavalry.

He and Reggie McKenzie drafted PJ Hall (second round) and Maurice Hurst (fifth round) to bring pressure inside. They selected Arden Key (third round) to bring edge pressure on a rotational basis.

That was expected. Gruden said a few times this offseason the Raiders must upgrade on the defensive interior and that Mack and Irvin especially didn’t need to play so many snaps.

There’s no telling how draft picks will turn out or whether they’ll make an immediate impact, but there’s no doubt these guys are talented.

Hall was a monster at Sam Houston State, dominating FCS competition and compiling monster strength and agility numbers during the pre-draft process. Hurst might be the draft’s best inside pass rusher, a first round talent who fell because of a health concern.

Hurst and Hall guys can play three technique, a pivotal spot in coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense, and help rush the passer in sub packages.

“To get those two guys,” Gruden said, “we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft.”

The Raiders hope Key can return to 2016 form, when he was considered a top NFL prospect. He fell to the third round after an all-around subpar 2017 season, but he still possesses great length and size. He’s built like Aldon Smith, an excellent pass rusher at his playing peak.

“Arden Key, that we had ranked very, very high as a pure pass rusher in this draft,” Gruden said. “It’s a commodity that’s hard to find… I like this kid a lot. He checked out with us, and he can bend the edge, I know that.”

This isn’t the first time the Raiders have tried to give Mack (and Irvin) some help. Defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr., a second-rounder in 2015, has been good at times but largely inconsistent when healthy. He remains in the mix.

Jihad Ward (second round) and edge rusher Shilique Calhoun (third round) were taken in the 2016 draft, but haven’t provided much help. Ward was traded to Dallas after the NFL draft, following two ineffective seasons. Calhoun was cut before his second season and spent part of 2017 on the practice squad.

The Raiders hope this volley proves successful. The picks themselves understand the importance of helping top-flight edge rushers.

“Coming on my visit, I knew that they needed help on the interior pass rush, trying to help out the edge rushers that they had,” Hall said. “Having interior pass rush that can help collapse the pocket will actually help them out too, on the edge. We’re just ready to get to work here and do what’s best for the team.”

Gruden isn’t the only one asking new guys for help. Irvin stopped by the Raiders rookie minicamp on Friday to meet with new recruits.

“He was just up there trying to help us out, give us some advice,” Hurst said. “Just telling us that you have to show up and work – that’s exactly what we want to do and we want to be a crucial part of this team and help them win as many games as possible.”

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