ALAMEDA — Darius Latham never imagined not hearing his name called when he declared for the NFL draft following his junior season at Indiana.
“I probably would’ve stayed in school,” Latham, the Raiders’ rookie defensive tackle, said of the idea of him not being among the 253 draftees.
Latham was a projected late-round pick after a three-year Indiana career saw him accumulate 81 tackles and 7.5 sacks. But he didn’t help his draft stock with a March arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
After being passed over, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Latham had interest from several teams.
“I got a lot of calls, but I pretty much had my mind made up where I was going to go,” Latham said.
The Raiders love versatile players on their defensive line, guys who can line up as a 5 technique (on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle), 3 technique (in between the offensive guard and tackle) and nose (head up on the center). That fits Latham’s game.
“I don’t like being a one-dimensional player,” he said. “I like being able to play on edges, get down and dirty in the trenches like 3 technique and nose, taking on combos and double teams. It’s just a good look to be able to put those type of plays on film.”
Latham played a team-high 37 snaps in last week’s exhibition loss to the Green Bay Packers. Through two weeks of the preseason, the website Pro Football Focus has graded Latham as the top rookie defensive/nose tackle in the league — ahead of all 21 defensive tackles that were drafted.
“He’s strong,” Raiders defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said of Latham. “He plays with good pad level. He’s got a little pass rush. He’s still got work to do. Just take it day by day, continue to work the fundamentals and be disciplined in everything we do and see where it takes him from there.”
Latham got valuable experience against the Packers when he rotated in with the starting defense during the first half. That allowed him to not only play alongside Raiders starters such as Khalil Mack, but go up against Green Bay’s first-string offensive line.
“That’s always good for him,” Franklin said. “It’s just part of the process. Guys periodically will have that opportunity. He’s definitely earned it. He’s just got to continue to build from that and get better.”
The Raiders have an opening and need for some defensive line help with Mario Edwards Jr. sidelined for a few weeks with a hip injury. Latham said that hasn’t changed his approach.
“I pretty much had the same mindset always from the start,” he said. “Just making plays when I’m in. Take advantage of every snap.”
As the snaps keep increasing, Latham’s chances of going from undrafted to the opening 53-man roster look pretty good. Latham isn’t blind to that fact, but is trying to clear the positive chatter about his play from his mind.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Latham said. “You’ve got to still go out and work every day. Zone those type of talks out and just keep doing what I’m doing — getting better every day.”
n Joining Latham in the rotation with the starters last week was fellow tackle Dan Williams. The 15-game starter from last year got heavy over the offseason and had been relegated to second-team work until the Packers game.
Williams has slowly worked himself into better shape and Franklin is starting to see more of the player the Raiders had last year.
“He’s getting back,” Franklin said. “It’s a process. As time moves along, we’ve just got to make sure we stay ahead of the curve. That’s what we’re doing.
“Dan’s obviously concerned about what he needs to get done to be where he needs to be. And we’ve got a strong eye on him to make sure we’re doing what we can to make sure that he returns to where he needs to be as well.”