The Las Vegas Raiders defensive line is a group that prides itself on toughness, execution, technique, aggression, explosiveness, and effort.Â In 2022, the Raiders’ defense is going to have some big new monsters in the middle.
The Raiders are featuring some grizzled veterans
Bilal Nichols – 6’3″ and 290 lbs.
Nichols was the first major addition to the defensive front. He may not necessarily be a household name, but he will be soon. Nichols is a massive man who’s incredibly athletic for a man his size. When watching Nichols, the first thing of particular note is his amazing first step. Typically, a first step is measured by how fast a player can get out of his stance and across the line of scrimmage.
With Nichols, he has an explosive step, but what sets him apart is the patience and precision with which he places it. Prior to the snap, depending on his assignment and how the offense lines up, he is able to decipher where to attack. Whether he is spying an opposing player, splitting a center/guard or guard/tackle double-team, or maintaining his gap integrity, Nichols’ first step always puts him in the best possible position to succeed.
Nichols consistently attacks the opposing blocking attempts with an abundance of techniques. Whether defending the run or the pass, it does not matter; he’s equipped to get the job done. Leverage is his primary weapon of choice, especially when taking on larger linemen. Isolating the opponents’ weak shoulder and exploiting it. Nichols’ hand fighting and placement are very good, and he excels at his position because of it.
NFL players are faster than ever…
In today’s NFL, players are faster and more physical than ever. The shortest distance between two points will always be a straight line. Nichols excels at setting the launch point with his first step and using leverage to go straight ahead. He blitzes the area of the gap where the block has no leverage and keeps a single blocker’s hands off of him as he explodes past him. His lateral movement is consistently better than the man across from him, thus enabling him to get sideways and negate the power of a zone blocking assignment.
What does it all mean?Â To put it boldly, the acquisition of Nichols is a much bigger shot in the arm than many in Raider Nation realize. Nichols is slated to have a boom year in 2022, provided he continues on his path of progression and ascension. The middle of the defense is getting a big grizzly bear of a man to wreak havoc on the line of scrimmage. He’s a player capable of being the really sharp tip of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s spear.
Johnathan Hankins – 6’3″ and 340 lbs.
Hankins spent the first four years of his career with the New York Giants andÂ was a force along that defensive line. He played in 52 games, starting 41. He amassed 140 total tackles, 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, and 26 quarterback hits. In 2016, with current Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham as his defensive line coach, Hankins put up his second-best season in terms of pass rush. He got three sacks and 10 quarterback hits, both marks for the second-most in his career. The eight tackles for loss matched his career high.
New blood for the Raiders
Neil Farrell Jr. – 6’4″ and 325 lbs.
One of two Raiders’ 2022 fourth-round draft picks, Farrell is a big brahma bull of a man and more explosive than a firecracker. He wowed and dazzled spectators at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Farrell even got the better of fellow draft pick Dylan Parham. He would continue to dominate in one-on-one drills against everyone placed against him.
Farrell and Nichols are similar players, but where they differ is that Farrell plays bigger and relies on his strength. Farrell is the type of player who will bring the fight to your doorstep. Nichols defeats double-teams with leverage and technique, while Farrell is just going through them. At worst, he holds his ground. When he’s on, he’s collapsing pockets and rushing lanes. Far from a finished product as a senior at LSU, he had 45 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. What he will need to work on is his conditioning and endurance. Otherwise, he will be a phenomenal rotational player.
Matthew Butler – 6’4″ 295 lbs.
Fifth-round draft pick Matthew Butler has the potential to be a phenomenal chess piece for Graham. Butler is explosive, strong, and cerebral when about his business. Versatile, he is capable of playing every position and technique across the defensive line. He is good with his hands and is quick off the edge. Yes, you read correctly. He can play defensive end and do it well.
A rare combination of speed and power, Butler as a rookie could be a rotational nightmare. Whether it be in short-yardage packages, NASCAR-type packages, run downs or third downs, He is a large football player, the perfect size to be used in conjunction with the larger defensive interior players. Frank Okam, the Raiders’ defensive line coach, will have two ascending young talents to coach into stars.
More depth pieces
Andrew Billings – 6’1″ and 311 lbs.
Billings has got a metric ton of untapped potential. In 2015, Billings was the co-defensive MVP of the Big 12 conference while he was playing at the University of Baylor. More likely than not, Billings will be a rotational player. However, he will get his chance to compete and prove his worth over the course of the offseason program and training camp.Â Billings is a two-down monster who can collapse the middle of the pocket. He is built like a tank, and his overall strength is widely praised.
Vernon Butler – 6’4″ and 325 lbs.
A ginormous human being who got trapped on the depth chart behind the likes of Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Ed Oliver, and Carlos Basham. It’s hard to imagine a player as big as Butler getting trapped behind anyone, but the Buffalo Bills had the number one defense in the league. He will get his chance to get a fresh start and carve out a new niche for himself.
Kyle Peko – 6’1″ and 305 lbs.
Peko has had a slow start to his career and has not shown a lot of promise in any of his previous stops. He’s played in 21 games and started three. Over his five-year career, he has one forced fumble, two sacks, 23 tackles, and three quarterback hits. Probably just a camp body.
Kendal Vickers – 6’3″ and 295 lbs.
Vickers is one of the last holdovers from the Paul Guenther days. Is he a star? No. However, Vickers consistently gives you quality play whenever he is called upon. More of a dirty worker than a star, he will occupy blockers or hold contain.
Multiple is the defense of choice for Graham, adapting and attacking the weaknesses of the offense. At first glance, the names don’t really leap off the paper. which is why I included size. The average size of a defensive lineman is six-foot-three and 310 pounds. These players allow the Raiders to play a multitude of down-linemen sets. The requisite personnel for 3-4, 4-3, 3-3-5, Nascar, and 2-man sets. They can play at a variety of speeds with an assortment of proper sizes and athletic types. set to defend zone and/or gap schemes.
Keep in mind that the players we’re speaking about are all the interior defenders. Men who specialize in brutality and violence. The defense has gotten considerably larger up front. Additionally, the Raiders have gotten a lot more explosive at the position. Development will be key, but there is cause for excitement.
*Top Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1 thought on “The Las Vegas Raiders’ Defensive Line Gets Bigger And Badder”
Great writing from a sports juournlist for a change. Nice insight.