This unconventional offseason has been particularly hard on undrafted free agents. However, one of the Las Vegas Raiders’ undrafted signings might be worth a longer look than the rest.
Mike Panasiuk went undrafted this past spring. However, the Raiders scooped up the Michigan State product as soon as the draft ended. Defensive tackle has not been a position of strength for the Silver and Black in recent years. This may give the rookie a better than average shot at making the 53-man roster.
Raiders Defensive Tackles: Current State of the Position
The Raiders simply have not been getting enough production from the defensive tackle position. Last year, that unit combined for just 6.5 sacks. Raiders brass clearly felt they needed to make some changes. Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner was jettisoned in favor of Rod Marinelli. Former Dallas Cowboy Maliek Collins was added as a major free-agent signing. At the start of training camp, the Raiders made another big move at the position. 2018 second-round pick P.J. Hall was sent to the Minnesota Vikings for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2021. Though that trade fell through, Hall has not been very productive the past two seasons and allegedly reported to camp out of shape for the second year in a row.
Looking at the rest of the group, there are only two players returning from last year. Johnathan Hankins was okay last season, but the eight-year vet is not much more than a pure run-stopper. The other returner is Maurice Hurst, who had a decent sophomore campaign. Hurst racked up 3.5 sacks last season, but tended to disappear at times.
The Raiders need him to be more consistent this year. Beyond Hurst, Hankins, and Collins, the Raiders have a massive question mark. They only have two other defensive tackles on the roster. One is Daniel Ross, a journeyman whose most recent stop was with the Cowboys. The other is Panasiuk.
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Get to Know Mike Panasiuk
At 6’3″ 294 pounds, the rookie out of Michigan State certainly has NFL size. He also proved he can hold his own against NFL-caliber offensive linemen in the big ten. Panasiuk had decent production in college against tough competition. He was a three-year starter and was a three-time honorable mention All-Big Ten. Over the course of his college career, Panasiuk racked up 95 tackles, 19 for a loss, and five sacks. Let’s take a look at his tape.
The first thing that jumps out at is that Panasiuk gets a very good push upfield. You almost never see him get driven backward. Another strength of his is gap control; his ability to occupy a lot of space makes him stout against the run.
Panasiuk’s biggest weakness is probably getting after the quarterback. He simply does not generate much pressure in pass-rush situations. That being said, Panasiuk does do one thing really well on passing downs. He maintains his rush lane, making it difficult for the quarterback to escape the pocket. This was a problem I noticed a lot with the Raiders last year. Hurst and Hall would often abandon their rush lanes in pursuit of the quarterback. This allowed them to create pressure, but made it easy for the quarterback to step up in the pocket.
The part of Panasiuk’s game that should impress the coaches the most is his motor. His effort is relentless. He does not take plays off. He plays hard whistle to whistle. These are traits that Gruden and Mayock love. Panasiuk fits the mold of the “high football character” guys that the Raiders have been trying to fill their roster with over the past 18 months.
With Hall gone, the Raiders currently have five defensive tackles on the roster. More than likely they will keep four. I would expect them to bring another body into camp, but it might be tricky. They are already cutting guys to get down to 80 because of the pandemic rules. If they do not add anyone, the last spot should come down to Ross and Panasiuk. Ross has likely already hit his low ceiling. He likely got a camp invite because of his relationship with Marinelli. Panasiuk has much more upside, and the job could be his to lose at this point. I expect him to make the team as the fourth man in the defensive tackle rotation.
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Top photo: Michigan State Athletics