Reggie McKenzie has found value in the NFL Draft in his four years since taking over for the late Al Davis, and 2015 appears to be no different.
McKenzie and the Raiders addressed a need on the defensive line by selecting Florida State’s Mario Edwards, Jr. in the second round (35th overall). Edwards entered the draft after his junior year, when he finished with 23 tackles and three sacks.
It was believed that McKenzie and the Raiders front office wanted to groom Edwards more before giving him a huge role, but now injuries (and a suspension) is forcing the team’s hand early.
Edwards jumped out to a solid preseason, racking up 2.5 sacks in his three games played after not playing in the preseason opener.
The rookie defensive end is coming off of his biggest game of his young career, racking up 11 tackles, one sack and a fumble forced. The NFL has recognized his big game by nominating him for the NFL Rookie of the Week honors.
Overall on the season, Edwards has 28 tackles and 1.5 sacks on the year, but has seen more pressure on the quarterback since seeing an increase in playing time.
The young pass rusher will continue to see more playing time after veteran Aldon Smith has been handed a one-year suspension, ending his season. With Justin Tuck still sidelined with his arm injury, the Raiders will turn to Edwards to step up on defense.
His defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. expects him to do just that with the added playing time.
“Well, he better. (laughing) He better,” Norton said after Thursday’s practice. “Anytime you have a good football player, you expect the good football players to play good and to really take advantage of opportunities. His development, as we’ve all seen, is right where it needs to be and he doesn’t have a ceiling. It just goes. It’s limitless. We just have to keep having him do what he does best.”
If Edwards can continue to develop into a strong pass rusher, it will give star Khalil Mack someone that can grow with him into a duo that can anchor the Silver & Black defense for many years.