2021 Raiders Rewind: Yannick Ngakoue Changed The Raiders’ Defense

The Las Vegas Raiders’ front office wasted no time in signing Yannick Ngakoue in the 2021 offseason. He was the first piece to upgrade a struggling defense, and it proved to be one of the most critical pieces.

After his first season in Silver and Black, let’s take a look at how it all played out.

A Stats Summary

Ngakoue is known for his impressive pass-rush ability. Complimented by Maxx Crosby, the two put opposing quarterbacks on notice each and every week.

Ngakoue ended the season with 62 total pressures, including 10 sacks, 14 hurries, and 23 QB hits, per Pro Football Reference. His 10 sacks were the second-highest the fifth-year veteran has had in a season. His second season was the only year he had more sacks, with 12. The first-year Raider had eight tackles for loss, three pass deflections, and two forced fumbles in 2021.

The High Points

We know stats don’t tell the whole story, so what was the rest of Ngakoue’s season like?

There is no question Ngakoue’s leadership abilities were shown on and off the field. Crosby has often credited Ngakoue with helping him turn into the rising superstar he is. Ngakoue’s veteran leadership has aided in the progression of Raiders rookie Malcolm Koonce and third-year defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell.

Ngakoue was the compliment to Crosby that Raider Nation dreamed of. His knowledge of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme no doubt helped in turning the young defense around. It’s not often that a new coordinator can make a difference as fast as Bradley did, and it is clear Ngakoue helped make that happen.

The Lows

Ngakoue started the season hot. He had one of the best games of his season in Week 1, earning a 90.6 overall grade from Pro Football Focus against his former team, the Ravens. His most impactful games came later in the season, after he recorded his first sack in Week 5. He had two sacks each against the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants.

He had four sacks in the final ten games, including the playoffs. While getting pressure on the quarterback is crucial, as Ngakoue demonstrated with Crosby, sacks must also play their part. If the two can turn some of their pressures into sacks in 2022, it will upgrade their play, and the defense, to the next level.

Ngakoue’s efficiency dropped off near the end of the season. He put up his lowest QB hurry numbers, having just 1 in three games from Week 15-17. The last month of the Raiders’ season was in playoff mode every week, and his production wasn’t as strong. If the Raiders want to make a deeper playoff run next year, it’ll be crucial to see Ngakoue play his best football into December and January.

Ngakoue’s impact on the Raiders was as much leadership as it was production. If the defense improved this much in his first year, what could his second year look like? Ngakoue has one year left on his contract with the Raiders, but if his play continues to improve, it’ll be no surprise to see the Raiders extend him.

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*Top Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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