The Raiders’ search for Khalil Mack’s replacement has been a well know and laughable saga around the league ever since Mack was jettisoned to Chicago for a slew of draft picks in 2018. Las Vegas has had several swings at the bat in order to find a player comparable to the impact Mack had on the field, but the results have been mixed at best.
The home-grown talent the Raiders attempted to cultivate through the NFL Draft simply have not gotten it done. If the Raiders wanted that impactful defender, they would have to look outside the organization.
Enter Yannick Ngakoue. A third-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2016, Ngakoue’s impact at the NFL level was immediate. His combination of size and speed made him a dangerous pass rusher and quickly became the main quarterback hunter for Jacksonville on a defense that nearly carried the team to the Super Bowl in 2017.
Ngakoue was a young, upcoming star that the Jaguars could continue to build around and be perennial contenders for years to come. Unfortunately, that did not quite pan out and by 2020, the relationship between the star EDGE and the team that drafted him had completely disintegrated and Ngakoue would demand a trade.
2020 would prove to be an awkward year for the Maryland product. He was sent to Minnesota for a second-round pick to pair him with DE Danielle Hunter and spice up the Vikings pass rush. Ngakoue would continue his strong play, registering five sacks with his new team but he was one of the few bright spots for the Vikings at the time. Following a 1-5 start and seeking more draft assets, Ngakoue was sent to Baltimore for a third-round pick.
Yannick’s return to Maryland was welcomed by himself and Ravens fans alike but the positive relationship would soon sour. Playing out of place at linebacker, Ngakoue was used in a rotation and never seemed comfortable in the Ravens complex defense. By the offseason, it was fairly obvious that neither side saw the relationship continuing any further.
Though he had solid stats for the last several years, many felt Ngakoue was not the fearsome pass rusher he had once been with Jacksonville. That did not stop the Raiders from giving him a call, however, and the team inked him to a two-year, $26 million deal in the early stages of free agency in 2021. Most pundits felt that Las Vegas had overpaid but Ngakoue was determined to show what he could do in the Silver and Black. To say he has earned his contract in is a gross understatement.
Through 13 weeks of the 2021 NFL season, Ngakoue has already registered eight sacks, matching the third-highest total of his career. That number leads the team and also ties him with the tenth most sacks in the league. He also boasts three multi-sack games, showing that once Ngakoue gets going, he is tough to slow down.
To top it all off, Ngakoue is among the league leaders in quarterback pressures, showing his impact goes beyond the box stats. Ngakoue has been that consistent EDGE rusher that the team and fans have been clamoring for since the departure of Khalil Mack.
“There’s a lot of things that have to happen right for a defensive lineman to get a sack, but he’s got some God-given ability,” Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. Bradley coached Ngakoue in Jacksonville. “He’s very talented and his get-off has been really well. I think he’s tweaked some things the last few weeks that have benefited him.”
What is really positive about the Las Vegas signing of Yannick Ngakoue is not just his incredible stats in 2021, but the impact he is having on the team as a whole.
As of right now, the Raiders lead the NFL in quarterback pressures and the Raiders have been able to use that fearsome pass rush with devastating effect. The Ravens, Steelers, and Cowboys have all felt the ferocity of the pressure coming off the edge for the Raiders. When the Raiders pass rush gets going, they are a difficult defense to run against. Making opposing quarterbacks feel unsettled and uncomfortable is what this team does best and that is all thanks to who is manning the EDGE positions.
Ngakoue has been difficult to account for, but his presence has only boosted the play of the other Raiders pass rusher, Maxx “Mad Maxx” Crosby. Crosby leads the NFL in quarterback pressures and is easily having the best season of his young career. Crosby has been an unrelenting force of nature and while he has five sacks this year, he is a defender that offenses routinely must game plan around.
The combination of Ngakoue and Crosby gives the Raiders perhaps the best pass rushing duo in the NFL. As long as these two are bringing the heat on opposing quarterbacks, the Las Vegas defense will be a formidable unit. Both players raise the games of one another as both continuously look to outdo one another in a bit of fun competition.
Following the Raiders’ Week 7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Ngakoue spoke about Crosby: “That’s my brother. I always notice him looking at me and trying to figure out how he can compete and I’m always doing the same looking at him trying to figure out how to compete and that’s what I love about him.”
The mark of a good player is not just his individual level of play but how his play elevates those around him. Yannick Ngakoue has been a gem of a free agent find for the Raiders. His level of play has been higher that what most expected of him while the level he has elevated his teammates to has been nothing short of inspiring.
In a crazy season for Las Vegas where the Raiders have had to rely on the leadership of their veterans more than ever, the likes of Yannick Ngakoue have truly stepped up. Both a mentor to the young players and an on-field difference maker, Ngakoue’s impact on this team has been immeasurable. As the season progresses and the Raiders continue to push for their first post season appearance since 2016, the play of Yannick Ngakoue in 2021 has been key and his influence goes well beyond the stat sheet.
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