Raiders face key decision on talented interior rushers

Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey (16) is stopped by Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (92) as he tries to carry the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Nov. 17, 2018. Williams is a contender to be the first overall NFL draft pick, held by the Arizona Cardinals. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver Jr. participates in drills during Pro Day at the indoor football practice facility at the University of Houston Thursday, March, 28, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

ALAMEDA, Calif. — A weak class of interior rushers forced the Raiders to be creative during the 2018 draft.

In the second round, they traded back to select P.J. Hall, a prospect who attended Sam Houston State and wasn’t invited to the combine. In the fifth, they traded up for Mo Hurst Jr., a first- or second-round talent whose heart condition prompted many teams to remove him from consideration.

There is no need for such tactics Thursday.

A more straightforward approach can do.

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Houston’s Ed Oliver are among the defensive tackles who could be available with the No. 4 overall pick. Both represent an opportunity to upgrade an interior rush that is still very much in development. Given Hurst and Hall’s presence and the void elsewhere in the front seven, the Raiders are not necessarily committed to continue what they started in 2018.

Other options at No. 4 include an edge rusher, former Louisiana State linebacker Devin White, or trading out of the pick. The decision will be dictated on months of preparation between scouts and coaches toward creating the franchise’s draft board.

Ultimately, it is coach Jon Gruden’s call.

Any defensive tackle the Raiders draft Thursday to Saturday figures to have strong rush ability.

Their roster is well stocked with run-stopping nose tackles between Justin Ellis and Johnathan Hankins. The latter was first signed in September after Ellis suffered a foot injury, which led to his placement on injured reserve. Ellis returned midseason, but conditioning predictably proved an issue, impacting his production.

The Raiders re-signed Hankins in March to a two-year, $8.5 million contract.

If both can stay healthy, their presence inside could form the defensive line’s strength.

How great a need the Raiders consider themselves having at interior rusher is dictated on how great a jump they anticipate Hurst and Hall will make this offseason. NFL players generally tend to make their largest developmental gains between their first and second season.

Eddie Vanderdoes, a 2017 third-round pick, missed all of 2018 to a torn ACL he suffered in Week 17 of his rookie season. Notably, he remains on the depth chart, too, looking to re-establish his career.

None of these options have the pedigree of Williams or Oliver.

Williams starred in 2018 during his lone season as an Alabama starter. He totaled 70 tackles, including 18½ for a loss with seven sacks, and could be selected as early as first overall. Oliver is a bit undersized at 6 feet, 2 inches and 287 pounds. But he was highly productive throughout college and offers more versatility, perhaps moving out to play end on occasion.

Last year, the Raiders jumped around the draft for an interior rusher. That dance won’t be required this time.

At No. 4, they could have options.

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reporter Michael Gehlken at Follow on Twitter.

Top defensive tackles in 2019 draft

— Quinnen Williams, Alabama

— Ed Oliver, Houston

— Christian Wilkins, Clemson

— Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State

— Dexter Lawrence, Clemson