Sweeping changes were made after the 2020 season where the Raiders’ defensive line was a major weak point. These changes came in the form of additions and subtractions that left the defense as a whole, in a much different spot compared to the beginning of the 2020 season. However, when analyzing the group, there is still much work to be done.
Last year’s starting defensive tackle, Maurice Hurst, is gone. A quality pass rusher at times, the Raiders opted to go in another direction. That direction included the signings of both Quinton Jefferson and Soloman Thomas. Jefferson projects as a starter next to run-stopper Jonathan Hankins, while Thomas looks to provide depth.
Soloman Thomas has yet to prove himself in his four NFL seasons. Since being selected at number three overall in 2017, he has registered a measly six career sacks. He did however spend the 2020 season on IR after he tore his ACL in week 2 against the New York Jets. In conclusion, Thomas hasn’t proven himself, so can the Raiders actually trust him to be the third defensive tackle in the rotation?
Behind Thomas, the options don’t get much more exciting. Kendall Vickers is back for 2021 after a 2020 season where he showed some pass-rushing juice. Alas, there is much work to be done with the former UDFA. Former Charger Darius Philon was added as well but is a total question mark as he has not played football since 2018.
The most intriguing payer in the position group is UDFA Darius Stills. The West Virginia product likely should have been drafted and could possibly take Soloman Thomas’s spot on the team. He is a talented player with as much pass-rushing ability as any defensive tackle on the roster.
The Raiders made significant improvements in this area simply by signing Yannick Ngakuoe. The star-free agent addition will be the best pass rusher to wear the silver and black since Khalil Mack. Playing across from him is likely to be fan-favorite Maxx Crosby. While the two of them create an interesting duo, the depth behind them is once again unproven.
Former top-five pick Clelin Ferrell is back but will have to make major improvements in order to have an impact in 2021. On film, Ferrell simply hasn’t shown the pass-rushing ability needed in Gus Bradley’s scheme. Based on early reports from camp, Ferrell is third on the depth chart behind Crosby and Ngakoue.
2020 free agent signing Carl Nassib is buried on the depth chart here as well and figures to get some decent playing time. In theory, he has the ability to provide a quality pass rush off the bench. Currently, Nassib is fourth behind Ferrell, Crosby, and Ngakoue.
The Raiders did add a pass rush specialist in third-round pick Malcolm Koonce. While he has the tools to be successful, he is a long way away from being a routine contributor in the NFL. He will likely get limited playing time in 2021.
Questions to be answered
Truly, the Raiders defensive line, while improved, has loads of questions. Can Clelin Ferrell improve as a pass rusher? What do Solomon Thomas and Darius Philon have to offer? With the answers still unknown, the Raiders would be wise to add another piece before the season starts due to the lack of overall talent at defensive tackle.
Former Bengal star Geno Atkins comes to mind, as well as Gerald McCoy. Not only do they fit in great with Gus Bradley’s scheme, but they could both push Jefferson to a reserve role where he might be better suited. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley loves to rotate his defensive lineman and keep them fresh. As such, the Raiders should look to improve the depth of the group, especially along the interior.
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