You know the scene in JAWS when Quint is leading that massive great white shark into shallow waters, but runs the boat too hard and breaks it down? That’s kind of the vibe that was felt when Jon Gruden traded Khalil Mack; there goes the Raiders best line of defense… and here comes the NFL season.
Raiders get a couple first round picks and some change, but nothing to help this team now.
Which means one of two things; Gruden doesn’t think this roster is good enough to compete for the playoffs, or he thinks this 2018 draft class may be enough to compete with this year.
Raider Nation is hoping for the latter.
Luckily, there are some players new to the defensive-line to be excited about.
Consider the fact that in the past two seasons, the Raiders defense managed just 56 sacks defensively. In the past two years, rookies P.J. Hall, Arden Key, and Maurice Hurst managed 41 sacks combined in college (Mack had 40.5 his four seasons in Oakland, for what it’s worth).
Raiders are hoping that their college production transfers over, big time. Their interior pass rush should be improved with PJ. Hall along with the lightning-quick get-off of Mo Hurst.
Hall is a small-school player from Sam-Houston State that racked up four interceptions, 14 blocked kicks, 86.5 tackles for a loss and 42 sacks in his career. You can see why he’s starting (for now) when you see his disruptive play in pre-season.
Mo Hurst was drafted in the 5th round but like Raiders 3rd rounder Arden Key – he was a first round talent that slipped in the draft. Hurst was the highest graded defensive-lineman by Pro Football Focus to come out of the NFL draft in four years. Heart condition or not, that’s a steal in the fifth round.
The rush of the defensive interior should pay dividends for guys like Irvin and Key on the outside. If they lose one of those guys, Paul Guenther is going to have to get even more creative to get pressure with what he has.
A Rebuilt D-Line
The Raiders defensive line has really undergone some extreme changes in just a year: Khalil Mack is gone. Bruce Irvin moves back to end full-time. Hall/Hurst rotate beside/with Jelly Ellis. Tank Carradine rotates with Arden Key opposite Bruce Irvin. Fadol Brown, Shilique Calhoun, and Frostee Rucker are the depth guys, with Brown and Calhoun providing some pass-rush ability.
When you consider the newcomers to the team along with Calhoun being moved to defensive end, seven out of the ten players on the defensive-line this year didn’t even play on the line last year.
Which means Irvin will need to step up this year as a leader more than he ever has. A young player reaching their potential is hard without proper guidance, and Irvin will need to provide it. Much like he has all off-season.
Will The Raiders be OK on defense?
Trading Mack is a big gamble.
The Raiders are putting their trust in unproven rookies and NFL journeymen to help replace Mack’s production.
Unless they get production from their new defensive-line and early, this could be a huge mixed bag this year up front.
The pressure is on.
There’s more blood in the water now than there’s been in a while.
If the Raiders have a hard time staying afloat defensively, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves for waiting til next year to get a bigger boat.