The Las Vegas Raiders made it clear that revamping their pass rush would once again be a top priority for them in free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock kickstarted these efforts by bringing in defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Gruden has struggled to get much consistency out of this group since he made headlines by trading away linebacker Khalil Mack prior to the 2018 campaign. Although they showed some promise by recording 32 sacks in 2019, they took another step back with just 21 sacks last season.
Fortunately, the addition of Ngakoue provides a much-needed boost to the pass-rushing department in Las Vegas. It is safe to say that Gruden has high hopes for what his arrival will mean for this healthy mix of young and veteran talent.
The Raiders complemented the tandem of Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell with the likes of veteran Quinton Jefferson and rookie Malcolm Koonce. However, Gruden said in a video posted online by the Raiders that their resurgence on defense begins with Ngakoue.
“The quarterback can’t make a pizza standing back there. You just can’t let him go back there and cook dinner and look around back there and throw the ball. We have to get after the quarterback. So it all starts with Ngakoue,” Gruden said. “Getting Yannick in here, a guy we think can be a great pass rusher, we draft a kid named Malcolm Koonce [and we tell him], ‘Just watch Ngakoue — watch what he does. You’ll learn something.’ And I think Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson are going to give us a better inside rush than we have had. And we’ll see. You know Maxx [Crosby] will be there, and I’m expecting more from Cle Ferrell as well.”
There is no question that Gruden is putting a lot on Ngakoue not only to contribute but serve as the spark plug for this group. He has good reason to be optimistic given the latter’s proven track record of production throughout his career.
Ngakoue has never posted fewer than 8.0 sacks per season during his five years in the league. He managed to keep this number intact despite playing for two different teams last season, which is a testament to his skill set as a bona fide sack master.
The onus will fall on Crosby and Ferrell to feed off his example by making strides of their own. After finishing 30th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed last season, the only way to go is up in the 2021 NFL season.