Raider

Who’s The Raiders’ Most Unproven Position Group?

Throughout the 2021 offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders have made many moves to address their previous season’s woes. Coach Jon Gruden not only brought in talent on the field but has also changed personnel too. From big signings and rookies to scheme changes, the Raiders defense is sure to look like a different animal this year. With this metamorphosis, comes a lot of questions. Fielding unproven players at each Raiders position group, which unit has the most to show going into the 2021 season?

With Each Position Group Unproven, the Raiders Defense Must Improve

Most Proven: Linebackers

With so many acquisitions and losses to the defense, the linebacking corps has remained the most intact. After signing Cory Littleton, the Raiders have seen improvement in production from the unit. Another key addition was Nick Kwiatkoski, who showed he was a staple to success in 2020. He logged 81 tackles, an interception, and a sack as arguably the Raiders’ best effort to stop opposing threats. Tanner Muse is set to return from injury and finally put his play on the NFL stage. His rookie season cut short, he may be the most unproven Raiders linebacker headed into a new year.

Coming into the NFL fresh, Divine Deablo is a convert to linebacker from the safety spot. While any conversion in the pros isn’t easy, the Raiders have put Deablo in good hands. New coordinator Gus Bradley loves his linebackers and seems to find ways to make them productive. Nicholas Morrow has also been a consistent depth presence for the Raiders when he is on the field, however, he could improve his tackling and the angles he takes moving forward. Former first-rounder Darron Lee has also just recently joined the group and will provide key depth in rotations as well.

Altogether, the group has a smaller sample size. That doesn’t deter from the consistency the linebackers had during a dismal year. If they continue to shine while other players improve, they could see more success in the future. Linebackers take the slight edge as the readiest unit.

Some Strengths, Some Weaknesses: Edge Rushers/Defensive Line

In a league where quarterbacks are key, a pass rush is equally important. Recent memory hasn’t seen an elite Raiders edge group. While they boasted Khalil Mack in what may have been his prime, we’re far removed from that glory. In comes a new wave of QB terror. The marquee signing for the Raiders this offseason was Yannick Ngakoue. He’s been the model of consistency reaching signal-callers. Ngakoue has tallied eight sacks in each of his first five seasons. Hopefully, his engine inspires the other edge players to bring the heat. Maxx Crosby also looks to continue success. The fourth-rounder saw seven sacks in 2020 and could reach double digits this season. 

While his late-round colleague has shone, Clelin Ferrell has had a slower start. The former fourth overall selection hasn’t lived to that expectation yet. Perhaps a new coordinator, a new number, and new faces on the line can help him emerge to meet his own expectations. Some rookies have caught the eyes of players and coaches. Malcolm Koonce seems to have embraced the hype. The third-round selection has already shown the skills it takes to reach quarterbacks in OTA’s and hopes to bring the same come gameday. Defensive tackle Darius Stills joins the line after not being drafted. His peers are already impressed with his efforts and we could see him step up in the absence of Maurice Hurst in 2021.

The Raiders pass rush has simply lacked since Mack was sent to Chicago. In his fourth year now, Gruden could be putting aces in their places quietly. A lot of the talent on the defensive line has yet to play as a group. The numbers show that the edge-rushing unit is on the rise to being feared, but they still have quite a bit to prove to fans and coaches during the season. Not exactly the most unproven Raiders position group, but all eyes will be on the unit with hopes of improvement during the 2021 season. 

A Mix of Raiders with A Lot to Prove: Defensive Backs

Perhaps the biggest sign of the Raiders’ defensive backs being the most unproven is in the most basic assessment. The Raiders have made moves during the offseason, and almost half of them have been in the secondary. Four draft selections and multiple free agents joined to help a unit that struggled to cover and tackle. While the secondary room played musical chairs, the biggest upgrade for them might just be on the sidelines. Gus Bradley coached 2013’s famous “Legion of Boom,” and hopes to recreate that beast.

Bradley can start his Frankenstein recreation with names like Johnathan Abram and Damon Arnette. Both early selections, these two Raider defenders have played with high motors and little tact. Look for Abram to be more comfortable in a floating role in the box, and Arnette to get reps over the middle. Both should see more consistency with Bradley allowing them to play freely. 

Drafted in the second round, Trevon Moehrig will be a Day 1 starter in Bradley’s system. A single-high kind of player, Moehrig provides coverage so that players like Abram and Deablo can step up and play their brand of football. The Raiders haven’t had a true ball hawk safety in many years, but Moehrig hopes to end that streak. 

Lastly, the Raiders brought in veterans to help solidify a young core desperate to find its identity. Returning after his one-year stint in Cleveland, Karl Joseph returns to the Silver and Black. He is sure to guide others with his hard-hitting brand. Joseph himself did such with the Browns and had his best season to date. Casey Hayward joins the young corners from the rival Los Angeles Chargers. He will most likely play outside in Bradley’s system. His experience could also provide comfortability and trust to corners in other zones, so that anyone may make a play. 

Conclusively, the Raiders gave themselves an extreme makeover in the secondary. While in hindsight this may have been just what the doctor ordered, it currently looks like a project. The Gus Bradley experiment has every Raider fan excited in Paul Guenther’s wake. The defensive backs struggled the most for the Raiders in 2020, making them the most unproven Raiders position group. The picture has only blurred more since then. New players and coaches mean new results, right? Raider Nation will have to sit back and see if the play does the talking.

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*Top Photo: L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal

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