Jon Gruden and Co. did their best to keep Gruden’s word of adding interior pass rushing help.
In Rounds 2 and 5, the Raiders added a small school superstar in PJ Hall and a superstar with health concerns in Maurice Hurst. Also, Arden Key, the 2016 SEC sack leader, was selected in the 3rd round to help bend the edge. The addition of these 3 young defensive linemen will cause a shakeup with the defensive line as a whole. Before the draft, the Raiders already waived DT Darius Latham, and during the draft, traded former 2nd Round pick Jihad Ward. Some role changes with the group as a whole can be expected.
Last season, the Raiders carried eight defensive linemen, or 11, if you include Bruce Irvin, Shilique Calhoun, and James Cowser. Since last season, Denico Autry, Jihad Ward, and Darius Latham have all moved on to different places or a still searching for a new place. While Fadol Brown could certainly threaten for a roster spot, he was on the practice squad last year, let’s assume Hall, Hurst, and new Raider Tank Carridine replace the three departed defensive lineman. Additionally, the selection of Arden Key will likely force the Raiders to choose between Calhoun and Cowser. That race is too close to call currently so we will include them as one player, as they are likely fighting for the same role.
Also, new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther primarily ran a 4-3 defensive alignment in the previous season. All signs point to him doing the same with the Silver & Black. So, the roles of each player will have to be molded to a 4-3 defensive that’s DTs play in 1 and 3 techs. 1-Tech is heavy on the inside of the guard, thus in more of a run stopping position. 3-Tech is heavy on the outside of the guard, thus in a better pass rushing position.
DE Khalil Mack: Starting DE/Primary Edge Rusher
News Flash: Khalil Mack is a beast. There are only two scenarios where he isn’t the best pass rusher on the Raiders this season: an injury or a holdout. Let’s pray neither happens.
DE Bruce Irvin: Starting DE/Secondary Edge Rusher
The word on the street is that Irvin is going to be playing mainly DE in 2018. It makes sense to let the guy with 15 sacks over the previous two years rush the passer, the old regime never seemed to figure this out though.
DT/DE Mario Edwards JR: Starting DT/3-Tech
Mario Edwards may be a bit light to play DT in a 4-3 defense. However, with each year, teams throw the football more and more on early downs. Edwards may have to come out or bounce out to DE on prime rushing downs. Gruden has already stated his desire for Edwards to become a menace on the inside. However, with all the DTs on the roster, Edwards may play outside more than anticipated.
DT Justin Ellis: Starting DT/1-Tech Rushing Downs
Justin Ellis’ new contract seems to hint he will play a big role for Oakland’s D for years to come. “Jelly” won’t be able to play on passing downs but he will certainly be out there on 1st down. So, technically he will start but shouldn’t play a majority of snaps.
EDGE Arden Key: Third Edge Rusher
Key will likely play more of a hybrid role in 2018. He could play OLB and walk up to the line to form a 5-2 defense at times for the Raiders. He will certainly be used primarily as a pass rusher and likely won’t see many snaps on running downs until that part of his game develops.
DT/DE Tank Carradine: Mario Edwards’ Backup
Carradine and Edwards are likely to fill the same roles. 3-Tech DT on passing downs and DE on running downs. They are similar in size and stature and both were 2nd Round picks from Florida State University. Tank will play a similar role as Autry did, albeit on a much smaller scale. Carradine could find himself in a roster battle with aforementioned Fadol Brown.
DT Maurice Hurst: Backup DT
Rarely does a 5th Round pick play more snaps than a 2nd Round pick but Hurst will likely play more in 2018 than Hall. Hurst is a first round talent and Hall may need some time to adjust to the competition, Sam Houston State isn’t exactly in the SEC. Hurst is going to come in and demand snaps. Look for him to play 3-tech on rushing down and 1-tech on passing downs. This dude can do everything from a DT standpoint.
DT PJ Hall: Interior Pass Rush
Hall’s role in 2018 will be simple: go get the QB on third and long. He is super athletic and incredibly strong. Hurst edges him out for the majority of snaps but Hall should be utilized in sub-packages. Hall and Hurst could be a deadly stunting duo on the inside.
DT Treyvon Hester and Eddie Vanderdoes: Backup DTs
Both Hester and Vanderdoes find themselves on unstable ground. The additions of Hall and Hurst in the draft make one of the two expendable, even after the Jihad Ward trade. Hester and Vanderdoes are both traditional 4-3 DTs so a case could be made for both of them on the roster. Hester outplayed Vanderdoes in 2017 but Eddie V. holds the draft status advantage; draft status shouldn’t matter but it does alter decisions on occasion. However, Gruden didn’t draft Vanderdoes and he seems to be making a majority of personnel decisions, at least according to everyone ever. For all these interior guys to stick on the roster, Edwards and Carridine may have to bounce to primarily DE and Irvin and Key to OLB.
DE Shilique Calhoun and James Cowser: Backup Edge/Special Teams
It seems very unlikely both Calhoun and Cowser make the final 53-man roster. Both have offered very little from a pass rushing standpoint, thus the addition of Arden Key. The winner of this battle will have shown improvement in pass rushing prowess or will have made a name for themselves on special teams. Calhoun has the athletic advantage but Cowser has, against the odds, weathered the storm and stuck on the roster.
Overall, this group should be much improved from last year. The interior pass rushing potential is intriguing, to say the least. Key offers a more viable number 3 option from the outside. There also should be some interesting roster battles brewing from this unit. Teams that win in the trenches win games. Hopefully, the d-line becomes a strength for the Silver & Black in 2018 and that old adage reigns true.