With the conclusion of the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, the NFL offseason is at full steam. This year will be crucial for the Las Vegas Raiders, and fixing their defensive line should be at the top of their to-do list. On the bright side, this year’s selection meeting will offer a few enticing options in its early rounds.
This is going to be a long offseason for the Raiders
The Raiders are on the cusp of being a playoff team but have many questions regarding free agency, their own free agents, the play of recent draft picks, and cap space. Also, there will be no underwear Olympics this year (sigh), also known as the NFL Scouting Combine.
Teams must rely on game tape, pro days, and virtual interviews. Like most successful organizations, in order to create and maintain sustained success, you must draft well and develop your own players. Signing big-name free agents to big-time contracts is not a recipe for success.
Pro Football Focus recently ranked the Raiders’ 2020 draft class as the 30th most productive. This doesn’t reflect well on ‘draft guru’ Mike Mayock and king of the Raiders, Jon Gruden. The general manager said recently in an interview that he was disappointed in the productivity of this year’s rookie class.
Isn’t it the job of the general manager to draft well, not reach, and the head coach’s job to develop those players? What are we missing? Absolutely nothing if you’re a Raiders fan. Stop drafting players then switching them to different positions. Stop drafting players just because they come from big-time college programs. In that same interview, Mike Mayock said, the team has got to get better on defense. Duh.
The defense needs a complete overhaul at all three levels of the defense, and none more important than the interior of the defensive line. Johnathan Hankins, Maliek Collins, and Kendall Vickers are all unrestricted free agents. Of the three, maybe Hankins will get a new contract because of his run-stopping ability to go along with rotational player, Maurice Hurst. Needless to say, the cupboard is bare and it’s time to restock.
The case for Christian Barmore
Let’s start with a defensive tackle from a big-time college program, Christian Barmore. The Alabama standout is a 6-foot-5 and 310-pound. He is entering the draft as a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore after only ten starts. In those ten games, Barmore had 37 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and three forced fumbles. The Pennsylvania native should be a top 25 in this year’s class and the highest-rated defensive tackle.
Every NFL team is looking for that dominant interior pass rusher and run-stuffer. While watching Barmore you can see shades of Quinnen Williams, last year’s best defensive tackle. His and strength allows him to simply bull rush most offensive guards, manhandle them one-on-one, and collapse the pocket.
Please, don’t let the smooth taste fool you, Barmore is explosive and slippery enough to shoot gaps, bend and flatten to the quarterback. He is raw in terms of pass rush moves but with more experience and playing time, those will develop.
Moreover, Barmore is just scratching the surface of his ability. In the run game, he commands double teams or he pushes the guards into the backfield. The defensive tackle is able to eat up space and offensive lineman because of his pure size and strength. Barmore completely dominated the college football playoffs and was easily the best defensive player in the Final Four. He also checks all the boxes for Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden.
What about Levi Onwuzurike?
Next up, Levi Onwuzurike. The University of Washington product is a 6-foot-3 and 293-pound junior defensive tackle. He was an opt-out this past year, so you have to go back to his 2019 college tape where he played in 13 games, had 45 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks. He won’t light up the stat sheet but you have to watch him play to fully enjoy him.
Onwuzurike also played a lot of 0-technique over the center, but his true position will be that of a quintessential 3-technique, where he can use his explosive get off to shoot gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. You can see a lot of Chris Jones from the Kansas City Chiefs in Onwuzurike’s game.
He is a tall, athletic defensive tackle with tree trunks for legs and long powerful arms. Watching Onwuzurike use his long arms and strong hands to strike centers and guards in the middle of their chest and watch their heads snap back is pure joy. Onwuzurike is another one of those players who is still very raw in his pass rush moves but his explosive athleticism sets him apart from the rest of the defensive tackles in the draft.
Against the run, Onwuzurike is able to stack offensive lineman because of his long arms and find the ball carrier. He’s able to string outruns and take on double teams and make plays down the line of scrimmage. He is also able to run down plays from behind because of his speed. Onwuzurike was chosen to play in this year’s Senior Bowl but chose only to practice because of injury. He was able to flash his explosive first step in one-on-one drills and in 9-on-7 drills.
Quite frankly, Onwuzurike was un-blockable all week at Senior Bowl practice. Up until then, he was kind of flying under the radar, but the hype train is now alive and well. Which is a shame if you’re a Raiders’ team looking to upgrade the interior of the defensive line.
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*Top Photo: Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser