Raiders’ defensive breakdown: What are their biggest draft needs?

The Raiders defense had a surprising turnaround last year.

The team finished ninth in points allowed in the NFL. The Raiders didn’t finish better than 26th each of the previous three seasons.

The group returns pretty much intact as well. Cornerback Amik Robertson and defensive tackle Jerry Tillery are two of the Raiders’ only notable losses. The team even replaced Tillery with free-agent splash Christian Wilkins.

That means the Raiders can be selective in how they approach defense during this month’s draft. Here’s a breakdown on where things stand on that side of the ball:

Defensive end

Under contract: Maxx Crosby, Tyree Wilson, Malcolm Koonce, Janarius Robinson, Elerson Smith, Charles Snowden, David Agoha.

Level of need: Moderate

Breakdown: Koonce’s emergence last year changed the dynamic here.

His challenge is to build on that production and solidify his spot opposite Crosby. Wilson remains a wild card heading into his second season. He could turn the Raiders’ defensive line into a dominant force if he lives up to his billing as the seventh overall pick in 2023.

Robinson also showed some promise as a depth piece last season.

Draft plan: The Raiders aren’t expected to invest a high pick here given their other needs. But don’t be surprised if new general manager Tom Telesco drafts a developmental prospect at some point.

Defensive tackle

Under contract: Christian Wilkins, John Jenkins, Adam Butler, Byron Young, Matthew Butler, Marquan McCall, Nesta Jade Silvera.

Level of need: Moderate

Breakdown: The Raiders pounced on Wilkins the first day of free agency to address a position that had been a long-time issue. It’s been years since they had a dominant interior force.

Jenkins and Butler both delivered their first season with the Raiders and returned on new contracts. The Raiders need Young, a 2023 third-round pick to take a big step forward. Butler and Jade Silvera have a chance to be solid rotational players.

Draft plan: Wilkins’ presence lessens the Raiders’ need here, but there are quality prospects that could tempt the team into taking another defensive tackle with the 13th overall pick. Expect the club to add to the position at some point during the draft.

Linebacker

Under contract: Robert Spillane, Divine Deablo, Darien Butler, Luke Masterson, Amari Burney, Kana’i Mauga

Level of need: Sneaky big

The Raiders often had just two linebackers on the field last season with Spillane and Deablo showing they could defend the run and pass. Both are entering the last year of their contracts, however.

Masterson and Burney have the potential to be starters but still have much to prove. The Raiders could add some depth here with an eye towards the 2025 season.

Draft plan: The Raiders may not take a linebacker during the first two days of the draft with Spillane and Deablo set to return, but they could look to add one later on.

Cornerback

Under contract: Nate Hobbs, Jack Jones, Brandon Facyson, Jakorian Bennett, Cornell Armstrong, Sam Webb

Level of need: High

Breakdown: The Raiders struck gold late in the season with Jones after the Patriots put him on waivers. They also bring back Hobbs, one of the top slot corners in the NFL.

What the Raiders need is another starter opposite Jones. Bennett and Facyson are in-house candidates for the job but the team wants more.

This year’s draft is deep in cornerback prospects and the Raiders could look to address the position as early as the 13th overall pick.

Draft plan: The Raiders are in a strong position to add a solid cornerback prospect at No. 13. They could even find a quality starter in the second or third round. Expect them to be aggressive in adding at this position.

Safety

Under contract: Tre’von Moehrig, Marcus Epps, Isaiah Pola-Mao, Christopher Smith, Jaydon Grant, Tyreque Jones

Level of need: Low

Breakdown: The Raiders, like at linebacker, are set at safety for the upcoming season.

Moehrig and Epps return but are entering the last year of their contracts. Pola-Mao still needs to prove he can handle a starter’s workload and Smith needs to show what he can do after not playing much has a rookie.

Draft plan: The Raiders have taken safeties in two of the last three drafts, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they passed on selecting one this year. They could always add another player in undrafted free agency.

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

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