No concerns about Edwards’ health despite drafting linemen

The Raiders drafted defensive ends back-to-back on day two of the NFL draft.

Their third pick in the draft has an exciting stat-line. Shilique Calhoun, a 6-foot-5 pass rushing end out of Michigan State, recorded 10.5 sacks in his final season with 15 tackles for loss. And that was barely more than the previous year.

His Career includes 27 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, and three All-American selections.

Coupled with the team’s second round selection of defensive lineman Jihad Ward, it looked a little like the future of 2015 second round pick Mario Edwards Jr. could be less fruitful than hoped. Jack Del Rio answered that query with a hard “no.” Del Rio added:

“You’ve looked at our depth chart, right? We still have work to do on our football team. And so, there’s a lot of opportunity to better ourselves. And we continue to work at it anywhere we can. For us, the hype surroundings where we are, and where see ourselves as a football team may be two different things. We see a lot of work in front of us, and a lot of opportunity to make it much more competitive at many spots on the roster.”

Edwards Jr. sustained a neck injury late into the 2015 season, and the lack of clarity on his situation has fueled speculation that his days in the NFL could be numbered.

Del Rio says that Ward — a pick that draft analysts have described as “raw” — can play anywhere along the defensive line, and may get his first look as an interior lineman.

Calhoun, though, is a hybrid linebacker, defensive end, who can play anywhere outside.

The two selections add tremendous depth to a starting front seven, who have been one key reason that the Raiders are widely viewed as an up-and-coming football team.

Del Rio, though, doesn’t seem to share that same view. Not out loud, at least.

Depth could be a good thing for a Raiders team who were looking like a playoff-bound squad until injuries to safety Nate Allen and Justin Tuck, coupled with the suspension of Aldon Smith, de-railed that train with great vexation.

Said Del Rio:

“We feel about fortifying the front. That’s what we’ve been able to do. Add strength and depth and competition to the front.”

Tuck retired after the season, leaving the Raiders with Edwards and Khalil Mack as their only defensive ends with real starting experience. They lost reserve end Benson Mayowa to Dallas in free agency, and won’t have Smith back until week 11.

Bringing in linebacker Bruce Irvin as a free agent helps bolster the linebacking corp, which Calhoun figures to join at some point, and possibly lineup behind Mack.

With Ward, his trek to a starting spot will likely require displacing Justin Ellis — the Raiders’ fourth round pick in 2014 — or Dan Williams, who joined the Raiders during the 2015 free agency period.

Both are run stuffers, while Ward could be more of a pass rushing interior lineman, who would compliment one of the two incumbents.

Organized team activities begin in May, and that will be the first look that media will have at Edwards Jr. He has remained hopeful on social media that he will return.

And by training camp he should be healthy enough to compete, barring any setbacks. As long as the Raiders’ optimism is really in solid footing.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.