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Road to the Draft: A defensive player at each position to keep on your radar at the NFL Combine

The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot of momentum on defense going into the Scouting Combine.

Over the last nine weeks of the season under Antonio Pierce and Patrick Graham, the defensive unit allowed just a 16 point per game average – the lowest in the league in that span. Defensive Player of the Year finalist Maxx Crosby led the way with 14.5 sacks, along with key production from Malcolm Koonce, Robert Spillane and midseason addition Jack Jones. The Silver and Black have a grand opportunity to evaluate upcoming defensive talent next week at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Following our rundown of one offensive player at each position to look out for at the Combine, here's a breakdown for the defensive side of the ball.

Edge rusher: Dallas Turner, Alabama

With the season Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson just produced with the Houston Texans, the same could be in store for his former Crimson Tide teammate Dallas Turner.

The Alabama edge rusher has been universally ranked by draft analysts as the third best edge rusher in this year's draft behind UCLA's Laiatu Latu and Florida State's Jared Verse. However, I believe Turner could have the most upside out of any defensive player in this draft class. With his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame, he plays with a lot of speed off the line of scrimmage. The 2023 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss his junior season.

"Turner is a long, athletic edge with excellent production and an intriguing skill set as a pass rusher," wrote Daniel Jeremiah, NFL media analyst. "Against the run, he can set a physical edge or slip blocks to make plays at the line of scrimmage. His effort is excellent. Overall, Turner has played a pivotal role on the 'Bama defense for three years and he's ready to make an immediate impact at the next level."

I wouldn't be surprised if Turner ends up turning in some of the fastest numbers among his position group at the Combine, and potentially making an argument for himself to be paired with Crosby if available at No. 13.

Interior lineman: Byron Murphy II, Texas

Byron Murphy II continuously finds his name linked to the Raiders at No. 13 in recent mock drafts, and rightfully so.

He was one of the key pieces in turning the Longhorns defense into one of the best in the nation, earning their first season with at least 12 wins since 2009. Murphy alongside T'Vondre Sweat, who could also be a first-round draft pick, made for a stout run defense as they totaled 16.5 tackles for loss together last season.

"Murphy fills a massive gap along the defensive front after an incredible 2023 season," wrote ESPN's Field Yates. "He offers true difference-making play as a pocket compressor (he had 5.0 sacks this past season) and run defender. Few players in this class play full tilt to the extent Murphy does."

Linebacker: Payton Wilson, NC State

If any NFL team is looking for their prototypical starting linebacker, Payton Wilson fits the bill.

After spending six seasons at NC State, he comes into the league with a lot of experience yet tremendous upside. Standing at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he has an NFL-ready frame and uses his size well. What's appealing about Wilson's game is that he can do a little bit of everything at the linebacker position. He's a great downhill runner to the ball, has showcased solid pass rushing abilities, has an extremely high motor and excels in coverage. Following his senior season with the Wolfpack, he was a unanimous All-American and won both the Chuck Bednarik Award and Butkus Award.

"Wilson is a height/weight/speed linebacker with excellent instincts and playmaking ability," said Jeremiah. "He has the tools to play stacked in the box or as the hole defender in space. Against the pass, he is fluid in his zone drops. He relies on his eyes to jump routes and get his hands on the ball. He has the speed/agility to mirror backs and tight ends. ... Against the run, he uses his length to stack and shed blocks. His hands are strong and violent. He is quick to key, read and flow to the ball."

General Manager Tom Telesco has a knack for identifying talent at linebacker, dating back to selecting Denzel Perryman, Kenneth Murray, Drue Tranquill and Uchenna Nwosu with the Chargers. Wilson has a chance to make an impression on the Raiders at the Combine.

Cornerback: Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama

Kool-Aid McKinstry is arguably the top cornerback in this draft class, but definitely has the best nickname.

The Birmingham, Alabama, native has a fluidity to his game that's likely to be desired by any defensive coordinator. McKinstry's bread and butter is playing man coverage, with great instincts for making plays on the ball in the air. The All-American cornerback totaled 22 pass deflections his sophomore and junior seasons at Alabama. Additionally, he received an 87.8 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2023.

"McKinstry has shutdown CB1 potential," said Trevor Sikkema, PFF analyst. "For schemes that rely on more man coverage, he's very comfortable playing in press and with his back to the ball. Plus, he has one of the highest forced incompletion totals in the country over the past two seasons.

Safety: Kamren Kinchens, Miami

Kamren Kinchens has a little bit of Derwin James in him when watching his tape. He doesn't avoid contact, and he can fly to the ball.

The Miami Hurricane enjoyed a successful collegiate career, with two All-ACC selections and a whopping 11 interceptions in his last two seasons. His hard-hitting play style could make him a successful strong safety in the box, and he seemingly still has enough speed to roam in the backfield and play free safety. His 90 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest of any safety (min. 100 snaps) in 2022.

While the Raiders aren't lacking at safety with Marcus Epps and Tre’von Moehrig, Kinchens could fit like a glove in Graham's system thus making him a player to watch.

Take a look at the coaching staff Head Coach Antonio Pierce has brought in to lead the team during the 2024 season.

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