The Las Vegas Raiders selected defensive end Maxx Crosby in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was one of the best defensive additions the team made last year in retrospect based on tape.
The defense seemed to struggle all year at each of the three levels, having to deal with injuries, ineffective play, several rookies being forced to see the field significant time, mid-season additions and even the suspension of middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. However, Crosby provided one of the few silver (and black) linings.
Crosby’s 2019 season in a beat
The fourth-round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan University didn’t see significant playing time until Week Five against the Colts, which makes his entire season even that much more remarkable. Against Indianapolis, he was on the field for 98% of the defensive snaps. After that game, he never saw less than 66%. He took full advantage of the boost in playing time and finished the season with 10 sacks, half of one away from the Raiders rookie record of 10.5 (he could’ve finished with 11.5 but had one negated in Week 12 against the Jets). Crosby finished the year with 47 total tackles (T-second among rookies), 16 tackles for loss (T-first among rookies & T-fifth in the league), four forced fumbles (leading all rookies & T-sixth in the league) and 14 quarterback hits. Moreover, Crosby was in the running for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and while there are no moral victories in the NFL, that type of recognition is nothing to scoff at. Knowing all those, I wanted to put the spotlight on Crosby and see what he does well and some things where perhaps he can improve.
Areas of Improvement
Let’s start with the negatives. One of Crosby’s weakest performances in 2019 came in Week 14 against the Jaguars. While he did manage to record a sack, that was his only recorded stat of the game. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying though. He had a few plays throughout that game where he definitely affected the outcome but outside of the few snaps, he was mostly quiet. Some of the things you saw throughout this game are places he can be better at.
One of the biggest issues I saw out of Crosby was if his fist plan of attack doesn’t work, he can get stymied and has a hard time improvising to eventually shed his blocker. Coupled with that, he struggled to get to his second move quickly. When his original move doesn’t work, he would occasionally attempt a second move but by the time he’s committed to plan “B”, his blocker was in good position and ready for it. That or the quarterback was already getting rid of the ball. It would be nice to see him put together a strong “one-two” punch combination in order to beat some of the more talented offensive linemen.
While Crosby did show some strong technique in his pass rush game, he would occasionally flash some ugly tendencies. At times, his pad level was too high, allowing his blocker to gain leverage on him and mitigate his impact. Occasionally, you would see him reveal his plan of attack too soon and his opponents would beat him to his spot. Another place of improvement would be lateral quickness. On design stunt rushes (sometimes called a twist), Crosby would be a little slow hitting his new hole and would allow linemen to adjust and recover, resulting in a failed attempt. Crosby was rookie after all and you can never expect a first-year player to be flawless. There’s a lot of positives to build on and Crosby even possesses some traits you can’t teach. Let’s take a look at what some of those traits are.
Crosby’s strongest performance of the year came in Week 10 against the Bengals, when he racked up four sacks and forced one fumble. He wreaked havoc on Cincinnati’s offensive line and it felt like he was in on every play. Almost all of Crosby’s strong attributes were on display in that game: His high IQ, flashes of strong technique, active eyes in the backfield, and a relentless motor.
Below is a video of all four sacks from the aforementioned Bengals game:
On the first sack, you get to see some veteran-like technique out of the rookie. The left tackle reaches too early getting him out of a strong position. Crosby does a good job to cross chop the tackle’s arms with his inside arm (left) and get to the quarterback for the strip sack.
In the second sack, you see Crosby bull-rush his man. He does a good job pursuing the quarterback and sheds his man at the right time in order to take his man down.
Crosby’s spatial awareness and high IQ are on display on his third sack. While he does go unblocked off the line, he does an excellent job not to bite on the play fake and crash down the line. He maintains pursuit of the signal-caller and makes the open field tackle.
In the fourth and final sack of this video, Crosby sheds the initial chip block coming out of the backfield. He then stunts back to the his left and bursts through the hole created by Mo Hurst and brings down the quarterback once again.
After what felt like 100’s of hours of film, it’s evident Crosby was the definitive steal of the 2019 draft. Perhaps he fell victim to the small school biases or it was something else entirely. Either way, the Raiders are grateful he fell to where he did and the value he provided. You can never expect rookies, or any other player, to be perfect. While there are some things Crosby can improve upon those un-coachable traits makes for an exciting future. In his second season in the same system, it should be fun to watch what Crosby brings to the field in 2020.
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