HENDERSON, Nev. — The knuckles grew whiter as the anxiety built with each draft pick.
Sure, the Las Vegas Raiders had unsuccessfully attempted to trade up to the No. 1 selection, presumably for a quarterback, earlier in the offseason. And, yes, the Raiders did host a slew of quarterbacks in the run up to the draft.
But no one in the Raiders’ draft room truly expected one of the top three QB prospects to fall to them at No. 7. So when Bryce Young went first to the Carolina Panthers and C.J. Stroud went second to the Houston Texans, followed by Anthony Richardson two picks later to the Indianapolis Colts, the smokescreen lifted and the Raiders’ path was clear.
Chasing a quarterback, both literally and figuratively, came to fruition, as the Raiders focused on a top edge rusher who was still on the board — Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson.
As Raiders owner Mark Davis said, the room was calm but thrilled, as general manager Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels went to work.
“With three quarterbacks gone in the top 4, they knew that one of their four targets would be available at No. 7,” Davis told ESPN.com. “Then it became a fait accompli. It made it simple — Tyree was the man.”
Because while Las Vegas has been linked with drafting a cornerback, making a strength even stronger made the most sense. So the Raiders jumped at the chance to add Wilson to Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, who have a combined 72.5 sacks the last four seasons.
“Going into it, we weren’t sure whether he was going to be there or not,” Ziegler said. “And so, (we were) very excited when we saw that [Wilson] was still there and excited to have him.”
And as that old maxim goes, the best pass coverage is a fearsome pass rush.
“I know that our secondary players are extremely excited about the possibility of what Tyree can provide for us,” said Raiders assistant general manager Champ Kelly. “Me, personally, as a defensive back, I would be excited when you see a guy that’s 6-5, 35-inch arms, who’s proven to have the ability to get to the quarterback from multiple spots. That’s just an exciting possibility. It means, ‘maybe I don’t have to cover as long.’
“And in this division, you’ve got to have some guys that can go get the quarterback.”
Paging, then, reigning NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers‘ phenom Justin Herbert and Denver Broncos‘ Russell Wilson, a likely Hall of Famer.
No, not even the broken right foot that cost Wilson his final three games scared off the Raiders.
“It made sense for us,” Ziegler said. “If it was something that was going to keep us from [drafting him], obviously we wouldn’t have done that. We have players that aren’t on the board for medical reasons.”
Instead, the Raiders, who have had a “Mad Stork” in Ted Hendricks, are adding an “Albatross” with an 86-inch wingspan in Wilson to a “Condor” in Crosby in a decidedly Silver and Black avian sanctuary.
What’s that they say about birds of a feather, sacking together?
Wilson, who had seven sacks in each of his past two seasons but underwent surgery on the foot Nov. 21 and had the hardware removed March 21, did not participate in on-field drills at the combine nor did he participate in Texas Tech’s Pro Day. Dr. Robert Anderson, who performed the surgeries, advised Wilson to not sweat or work out for 15-20 days after the second procedure to minimize the risk of infection in the incision and sent a letter to all 32 teams alerting them of his recommendation.
Wilson downplayed any concerns.
“I expect to be ready by training camp,” he said. “It’s up to the staff at the Raiders to see what percent I am. I feel great, and I’m just trying to be as best as possible on the field.”
Wilson impressed Raiders staff on his pre-draft visit to Las Vegas.
“Yeah, he definitely had a big impact,” Ziegler said. “When we’re able to bring guys in for ’30’ visits, you have more of an unlimited time to be able to dig on the player … they’re very thorough and we have a very, very strong understanding of where the player is medically, personally and, I’d say, just from a football intelligence standpoint.
“So, to be able to get him here and go through that process definitely made it a more comfortable situation for us.”
Then where, exactly, does a 6-foot-5, 271-pound pass-rusher — not only played power forward on his high school basketball team but was also swift enough to run on three relays for the track team and led Texas Tech in sacks and tackles the last two seasons and wasecond-team Associated Press All-American last season — fit on a line with Jones and Crosby?
Does he take the 33-year-old Jones’ spot? Can he play inside, next to Crosby? The Raiders also return defensive tackle Bilal Nichols and re-signed Jerry Tillery, whose late-season arrival seemed to spark Jones.
“The more the merrier,” Ziegler said with a grin. “Just [Wilson’s] ability to disrupt … we want to be able to eventually develop, over time here, a front that’s able to come in waves and you’re able to keep guys fresh.”
Wilson said he wants to be as “relentless” and “disruptive” as Crosby.
“I feel like not everybody can rush the quarterback,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to have something about you. You’ve got to have great technique and also, you’ve got to be physical and dominant to get to the quarterback.
“Honestly, I want to be different than other pass-rushers in the NFL. I want to have my own ideal pass-rush plan and for other people to take bits and pieces from my game.”
In high school in New London, Texas, Wilson was a West Rusk High Raider. After playing one season at Texas A&M, he was a Texas Tech Red Raider. Destiny, then, seemed to have him becoming a Las Vegas Raider, no?
“I’m excited to be a Raider,” he smiled, “and continue to be a Raider.”
Not as excited, though, as the Raiders’ draft room was that first night.