Watching what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense did to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 should’ve made it clear that defense matters. In fact, it wins championships and it seems like the Las Vegas Raiders have forgotten that in recent years.
Dominating the line of scrimmage matters, and so do rangy linebackers who can cover and play in space. Do you know what’s important too? Safeties who do not let the ball go over their heads. Oh, and let’s not forget a smart and competent defensive coordinator.
Raise your hand if you’re a Raiders fan and this sounds like a broken record. Now, raise it if you are convinced that they must make changes to their defense. Las Vegas has the opportunity to completely rebuild their defensive front in this year’s draft in the first two rounds. They must come away with an edge rusher and a defensive tackle, preferably in that order.
The Raiders must also address edge rusher, defensive tackle, and free safety in free agency. Don’t bring up that nonsense about the Raiders being over the salary cap. Forget about the excuses if they want to turn things around.
The Raiders need to nail their middle-round picks
Not only do the Raiders need to find starters in the draft, but they also need to fill out the roster and find quality depth at defensive tackle and at linebacker. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden must find those mid-to-late round diamonds in the rough in 2021. Remember, first and foremost, they are re-building the front seven. You won’t find any of these next two players on any “top 100 big board” or in the Top 10 of positional rankings, but you will find them on an NFL roster contributing and playing important roles.
Let begin with the Big 12 Conference, where quite frankly, not a lot of defense is being played. However, when there is, it sticks out like a sore thumb (sorry), and that sore thumb’s (again, sorry) name is Darrius Stills, a defensive tackle at West Virginia University. The Fairmont native is entering the draft as a 22-year-old senior who had 25 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one interception in nine games. Prior to his senior year, Stills was the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Darrius Stills could offer value in the middle of the draft
Listed at 6’1 and weighing 285 pounds, Stills is a little undersized as an interior defensive lineman but his ability to shoot gaps, penetrate and rush the passer are his best attributes. He will be asked to play the 3-technique at the NFL level, which will showcase his explosive get-off and non-stop motor.
Stills plays with a chip on his shoulder, with anger, violence, and suddenness not ordinarily scene from a defensive tackle. Maybe he plays this way because he’s always been undersized and needs to prove he belongs. Whatever the case may be, the Raiders need all of it.
Against the run, Stills uses his size and strength to his advantage. With strong powerful hands at the point of attack and lower pad level, he is able to make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. The West Virginia product is also able to chase down plays from behind with his speed, quickness, and motor. He will be used as a rotational defensive tackle in the NFL and asked to rush the quarterback on passing downs. All quarterbacks hate pressure in their face, including the two Super Bowl quarterbacks.
What can Milo Eifler bring to the table?
Do you remember or even know that Lovie Smith was the head coach at the University of Illinois? Uhhuh, sure you did. Only the most fanatical football fans would know that. Smith was also the head coach of the Chicago Bears where he had a couple of linebackers named Lance Briggs and Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. With the Fighting Illini, he had another linebacker, his name is Milo Eifler, pronounced Mee-Low.
Eifler is an athletic, fast, rangy and explosive linebacker who will blow up ball carriers. Built like a Greek god, he is listed at 6’2 and 225 pounds but packs a punch in that small frame and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulders to lay the smackdown. Eifler started his collegiate career at the University of Washington before transferring to Illinois.
In 2019, Eifler played in 13 games, had 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Last season, because of injury, he only played in six games but had 27 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. The Illinois product is the modern-day three-down linebacker playing in the NFL. He’s stout enough at the point of attack to play in the run game and fast enough to cover running backs and play in space.
You can also use Eifler to rush the quarterback in blitz pressures up the middle to shoot gaps. Watching Eifler, you can see some Nicholas Morrow, who just happens to be an unrestricted free agent, in his game. He’s one of those players who adds depth at the linebacker position and would be a core special teamer.
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