Raiders DC Patrick Graham: NFL Draft or Free Agency?

Outsiders Edge: Patience And Maturity Go Hand-In-Hand For Las Vegas Raiders Interior Defensive Line

Patience and maturity will be key for an improved (but young) interior defensive line as Las Vegas Raiders defense coordinator Patrick Graham recently alluded to.

Neil Farrell Jr. arrived in Las Vegas with the prototypical size of 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds as a fourth-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He brought with him athleticism and big-time SEC accolades as a product of LSU. But Year 1 for the Raiders was as quiet as you can get for Farrell—nine games, zero starts, 12 total tackles, one stop for a loss, and two quarterback hits. Also, he was inactive for eight of the Raiders 17 games this past season. His highest output was a three-total tackle effort in a 27-20 Week 9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

So, what gives?

“Maturity,” said Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham during media availability after the OTA session last Thursday. Farrell heads into Year 2 with growth in that critical department.

“But is it unique to him? I mean, most rookies have to go through that process,” Graham added. “I think I’ve said this before: defensive linemen going from college to pros, you’ve got to think about from high school to college. Most of them have never been blocked before. I mean, I know people attempt to block them, but they’re so good in terms of just the talent level that you’re dealing with for a lot of them, like they haven’t had to play blocks the right way or truly have to focus on it because they’ve been that much better than everybody. Once you get to the league, it’s the best in the world at what they do, right? You’ve got grown men blocking you, technicians that have been doing it for a while.”

Graham noted that the best defensive linemen he’s coached had to go through similar experiences. Among those players are Chandler Jones and Dalvin Tomlinson.

“He’s just going through that process,” Patrick Graham said of Farrell.

Another second-year player for the Raiders is undergoing the same thing…

Fellow 2022 draft classmate Matthew Butler is going through the same rite of passage. Taken in the fifth round, the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder was seen as more of a pass rusher than Farrell’s run-stopping, block-occupying nature. Just like his higher-drafted counterpart, Butler’s Year 1 was plagued with inactive status (10 games) along with one “did not play” designation. In total, the Tennessee product ended his rookie year with five total tackles (one solo) and 0.5 sacks.

“I’m excited to see what he does; same thing with Matthew Butler. I mean, they’re two guys that have been here in our offseason program the entire time,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said. “They both came back early to do some work on their own with our strength staff. That’s what you can ask of a guy going into his second year. You hope they learn from the things that might’ve been tougher their first year, but I know he knows he’s in a competitive room.”

Patience is key for all parties involved, fans and coaches included

Lackluster rookie seasons are something NFL coaches expect and navigate past, despite the fan base being wholly disconcerted. It’s part of the process, and no matter how excruciating, patience is key.

“Well, as a former D-line coach, I’m sure the D-line coaches wish I was a little bit more patient, but that’s where my eye tends to go to,” Graham explained when asked about the fine line between having patience and understanding there’s a growth and development aspect to defensive linemen. “But yeah, you have to be patient. I mean, you can’t have high expectations and low patience; that’s a rap song I heard before.”

“But I thought he hit the nail on the head when he said it. I think you’ve got to be patient; at some point it’s going to turn up, and you’ve got to go. But you’ve got to be patient with those guys, and I think they’re working through it. You’ve just got to clearly define to them what’s right and what’s wrong, then develop a plan for them to improve, and then make sure we’re doing our best to get that done.”

A cynic and a skeptic would quip, “Does Graham know what’s right and wrong?” considering the quality his unit exhibited in 2022. Putting all jokes aside, there’s merit to Graham’s approach.

Patrick Graham and the Raiders went to work this offseason

To help facilitate the growth process while also allowing him to field the best talent available, the Raiders focused heavily on the interior defensive line. Farrell and Butler are part of a group of eight defensive tackles on the Las Vegas 90-man roster. Bilal Nichols, Jerry Tillery, Farrell, and Butler represent the returning Raiders. The group of Adam Butler, John Jenkins, Byron Young (2023 third-round pick), and Nesta Jade Silvera (2023 seventh-round selection) rounds out the group.

It’ll be intriguing to see how the competition unfolds during training camp. Keep in mind that Farrell and Butler play different techniques despite being defensive tackles. Farrell, Adam Butler, John Jenkins, and Silvera are slated to vie for the one-tech or nose tackle role. While Matthew Butler, Nichols, Tillery, and Young go at it for the three-tech role of interior pass rusher.

“The real evaluation comes in training camp, but you definitely see a maturity of focus on detail and working towards that goal that you just talked about,” Patrick Graham said of Farrell.

That likely holds true for every Raiders interior lineman competing for not only a starting role but snaps in the rotation.

*Top Photo: BVM Sports

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