Oakland Raiders: Treyvon Hester has opportunity to impact 2017 season

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders have several assets who can help strengthen the defensive line. Will another seven-rounder, Treyvon Hester, make an early impact?

When discussing the Oakland Raiders defensive line, the usual questions pop up. Can Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy? Will Jihad Ward find his way? The coaching staff expects major contributions from their last two second-round draft picks.

Fortunately, the Raiders don’t have to solely depend on Edwards or Ward to close the holes up front and generate interior pressure. The roster features a wealth of rotational options at 3-technique defensive tackle and 5-technique defensive end.

Don’t forget Denico Autry, a former undrafted free agent who proved he belongs on the field. He logged three sacks in each of the previous two seasons. He’s played 1,374 snaps since the 2015 campaign. When the coaching staff benched Ward toward the end of the previous year, Darius Latham logged two starts. In a contract year, Justin Ellis may increase his worth on the 2018 free-agent market as a decent run defender.

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Now add third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes and seventh-rounder Treyvon Hester to the revolving door on the defensive line. The former will miss all 10 organized team activity practices and mandatory minicamp due to his obligations to finish his final semester at UCLA, per NBC Bay Area reporter Scott Bair:

Though, Vanderdoes continues to press weights like small children in the weight room. No matter how hard a player trains in the gym or keeps in contact with the team, there’s no replacement for hard reps on the practice field. With that said, Hester may hold an early edge in getting significant snaps as a rookie over Vanderdoes.

We all know padded practices and preseason performances separate those vying for a good spot on the depth chart, but Hester’s head start in absorbing the defensive scheme during practices contributes to a golden opportunity.

At Toledo, Hester flashed his skills as a run defender and pass-rusher. As a senior, he finished with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss. Despite his seventh-round draft status, there’s no short of confidence, per the team’s official website:

"[I’m] very disruptive, a two-gap kind of player. Someone who demands a double team. Someone who can help free up his edge rushers, and allow my linebackers to flow to the ball.He’s a great football player. Khalil Mack comes from the MAC conference too, so we share a lot of similarities. He went to Buffalo, I went to Toledo, so we’re two, underrated players who have a big chip on their shoulders, and want to come in and show everybody what we can do."

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Any late-round draft pick willing to compare himself to the reigning Defensive Player of the Year sets a high bar with something to prove. Hester made all-MAC honors in three of four years. His production fell short during his junior year, but the down season pushed him toward better results as a senior. According to NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein, he lost 20 pounds to add quickness to his play going into the 2016 season.

With that attitude, Hester could push for a couple hundred snaps as a rookie. The coaching staff will likely mix and match defenders based on the down scenario.

Pre-junior year, Vanderdoes jumped off the film as a viable run-stopper. Hester adds the interior push up the middle with the ability to reach the backfield on rushing downs.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has developed a knack for snagging productive seventh-round picks. Just take a look at defensive back T.J. Carrie and offensive lineman Vadal Alexander over the past few years. These late-round selections didn’t take a non-descript spot on the practice squad and wait for their turns. They jumped into the fray as contributors starting with their rookie campaigns.

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As the Raiders reconfigure and tweak defensive line, Hester could be the guy to complement Justin Ellis in even fronts, splits snaps off the edge in odd fronts or fill in adequately when injuries affect the starting lineup.