The 2020 Las Vegas Raiders were an abomination on defense. Led by now-fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the Raiders plodded to a bottom-three defense in total points allowed.
Some of those defensive lapses cost them wins. The Miami Dolphins debacle is the most memorable, but it’s worth noting the Raiders had trouble keeping the winless New York Jets at bay late in the game. Substantial changes became necessary.
Enter the 2021 NFL offseason. The Raiders were aggressive in their efforts to improve the defense. One of the biggest splashes was the signing of pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
Ever since ‘52‘ left town, the Raiders have sorely lacked any presence in the front-four that could rush the passer. In 2020, the team boasted a paltry 21 quarterback sacks. Only the Titans, Bengals, and Jaguars were worse. The Raiders had to get better upfront so they took a swing on Ngakoue to provide a spark to their defensive unit.
Ngakoue has been dominating the NFL since his rookie year. After being drafted by the Jaguars, he sprung onto the scene with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Eight sacks on this Raiders team would account for over 35% of their total sack number.
He didn’t stop there. Ngakoue would post impressive pass-rush numbers year after year for the Jacksonville Jaguars (who at one point featured Gus Bradley as their head coach). In his five-year career, Yannick has amassed 45.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles, 49 tackles for loss, and 96 QB Hits.
He was a part of a dominant defensive force on the 2017 Jaguars. A defense that featured Ngakoue, Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Marcel Dareus, A.J. Bouye, Donte Fowler Jr., and Myles Jack. There were postseason aspirations for that roster before everything fell apart for Jacksonville.
Players with his pedigree don’t often become available. Following a public standoff with the Jaguars, Ngakoue was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a 2021 second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round draft pick in 2022. He floated between the Vikings and the Ravens before becoming a free agent in 2020. The Raiders signed him to a 2-year $26 million dollar deal in hopes of replicating some of that defensive dominance.
Outlook with the Raiders
Ngakoue became the Raiders’ best pass-rusher the day he signed his deal. On a defensive line anchored by fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, he will slide in immediately to start for Gus Bradley’s defense.
His primary role with the Raiders will be to harass the quarterback. He has a full arsenal of pass rush moves at his disposal. He boasts the lateral speed, quick twitch, and bend to be the Raiders’ best defensive end. There’s no doubt about it, he’s going to make life easier for Ferrell and Crosby in 2021.
— Levi Edwards (@theleviedwards) July 29, 2021
Crosby has the most to gain from this signing. Ngakoue will mentor “The Condor” and make him a better player. Crosby gets to learn side-by-side with a premier pass rusher to step up his already impressive presence on the field.
He will also serve as a veteran of Bradley’s defense. New defensive linemen like Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson can go to Ngakoue if they need help mastering the scheme. Crosby can learn his tendencies to help crash the pocket. Ferrell can learn the techniques that help pass rushers win their assignments. The ripple effect will be a boon for the Raiders.
The Raiders’ defense
Not only will Ngakoue bring the d-line up to speed, but he will also benefit the defense as a whole. An effective pass rush takes the offense out of rhythm. Quarterbacks have less time to survey, receivers have less time to run great routes, and these situations result in turnovers.
The Raiders have asked a lot of their corners and safeties. They are sometimes expected to operate with the quarterback having all day in the pocket. You just can’t cover an NFL offense with that level of pass rush. It will be important for a young corner like Trayvon Mullen to learn how to adjust to a pass that may have been a second early thanks to Ngakoue’s pressure.
#Raiders DE @YannickNgakoue says Las Vegas' rebuilt defensive line reminds him of the #Jaguars D-line he anchored in 2017, when he had a career-high 12 sacks and led the league with 6 forced fumbles. "I felt I was a Raider all along. It just took me a while to get here."
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) July 30, 2021
The dreaded “3rd and long” defense that reared its head too often in Guenther’s defense might be a thing of the past. With two great ends harboring the line, it’s not unrealistic to envision a unit that is better on all three levels.
The offense will benefit as well. With Ngakoue providing sacks (that lead to punts) or forced fumbles, Derek Carr and Jon Gruden have more plays to manufacture points. This was a critical signing. Hyperbolic as it sounds, the hopes of the Las Vegas Raiders making the playoffs may rest on the shoulders of Yannick Ngakoue.
You May Also Like: Assessing the Raiders’ Options With QB Marcus Mariota
*Top Photo: Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal