If you’re a real Raiders fan, all you’ve been asking for over the past decade is an average defense. We’re not looking for the Ray Lewis Ravens; we’re just looking for a group that doesn’t make winning impossible!
Well, in 2021, we got that — kind of. The team finished 14th in yards allowed per game but 26th in points allowed per game. As a result, the coaching staff was overhauled, and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was brought in to improve a unit that seemed to have the personnel required to be better.
In part two of our preseason primer below, we’ll explore what the defensive roster looks like and identify players to watch this preseason within each group.
On the roster (alphabetical order, position as listed on the team’s website): Andrew Billings (DT), Chandler Jones (DE), Clelin Ferrell (DE), Gerri Green (DE), Kendal Vickers (DT, Kyle Peko (DT), Matthew Butler (DT), Maxx Crosby (DE), Malcolm Koonce (DE), Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (DE), Neil Farrell Jr. (DL), Tashawn Bower (DE), Tyler Lancaster (DL), Vernon Butler (DT), Zach VanValkenburg (DE). Jonathan Hankins (DT) and Bilal Nichols (DT) are currently on the PUP list.
The headliners here are the two guys who will be coming off the edge in Crosby and Jones — both of whom belong among the top-10 pass rushers in the league. The question heading into the preseason is whether or not the Raiders have enough push on the interior to support the guys on the outside and allow them to operate on an island.
Name to Watch: Koonce
As a rookie last season, Koonce flashed some pass-rushing ability, and with a move to a defense that will occasionally operate in a 3-4, Koonce could make some noise as a situational pass-rusher.
On the roster: Darien Butler, Denzel Perryman, Divine Deablo, Jayon Brown, Kenny Young, Luke Masterson, Micah Kiser. Kyler Fackrell was placed on the Reserve/Injured list.
Perryman is coming off a Pro-Bowl season and should be a force in the middle of the defense, while Deablo is looking to improve upon a really solid rookie season. Outside of those two, there should be a healthy competition for not only roster spots but for the third spot in the starting lineup.
Name to Watch: Deablo
Deablo was an under-the-radar third-round pick out of Virginia Tech last year, where he played almost exclusively as a safety. However, after making the transition to linebacker in the pros, Deablo stepped into some serious playing time as the year progressed and started to look like a legitimate building block on defense.
On the roster: Amik Robertson, Anthony Averett, Bryce Crosby, Chris Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, Darius Phillips, Isaiah Brown, Nate Hobbs, Rock Ya-Sin, Sam Webb. Trayvon Mullen Jr. is on the PUP list.
While Mullen was projected to be the lone returning starter on the outside from last season, he has spent every practice thus far on the Physically Unable to Perform list. As a result, free-agent signing Anthony Averett and Rock Ya-Sin (who arrived in a trade with the Colts for Yannick Ngakoue) have lined up as starters alongside slot corner Hobbs. While the loss of Casey Hayward will be felt, this group feels as strong and as deep as it has in a while if Mullen can return healthy.
Name to Watch: Ya-Sin
The former Colt was the 34th pick in the 2019 draft out of Temple (after starting his college career at Presbyterian) and will be a free agent at the end of the season. Rarely in the NFL do you see player-for-player transactions, but the Raiders gave up a legit pass-rusher in Ngakoue (knowing they would replace him with Chandler Jones), so they must like what they’ve seen from Ya-Sin. So don’t be surprised if this guy is getting some serious buzz by the time Week 1 rolls around.
On the roster: Duron Harmon, Isaiah Pola-Mao, Jonathan Abram, Matthias Farley, Qwynnterrio Cole, Roderic Teamer, Tre’von Moehrig, Tyree Gillespie
Looking at this group, Abram and Moehrig are the presumptive starters, but Abram is going to face some stiff competition this fall. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract (the Raiders declined to pick up his fifth-year option), the former first-round pick has disappointed thus far and doesn’t seem to be a great fit for Graham’s new defense on paper. On the other hand, Harmon is a former Patriot who isn’t in the prime of his career anymore but who knows the system well and could be Abram’s replacement.
Name to Watch: Moehrig
Heading into the 2021 draft, a number of mocks had Moehrig coming to Las Vegas with their first-round pick. But after taking Alex Leatherwood in that spot, the Raiders were able to land Moehrig in the second round — and the rookie out of TCU looked the part of a first-rounder. So Moehrig is hoping to prove that he’s on that list for a franchise desperate for defensive cornerstones.