A combination of elite talent leading the group mixed with veteran and young potential—Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones, and newcomer Tyree Wilson. That’s how the tea leaves read when it comes to the Las Vegas Raiders edge rushers.
Training camp at the tail end of this month will answer a lot of questions regarding both veterans and rookies, but fortunately for the Silver and Black, the team has Crosby leading the way. The gem of a fourth-round pick developed into an all-around elite defensive end who can equally hunt down the quarterback and snuff out the run.
But someone else in the edge-rusher room needs to stand out alongside “Mad Maxx.” Because Crosby is heading in the same direction that another Raiders elite edge rusher ran into—Khalil Mack. For much of Mack’s tenure, he was a solo act. Where Mack had Bruce Irvin, Crosby had Yannick Ngakoue, but both tag teams were fleeting.
It was supposed to be the combo of Crosby and Jones that terrorized opposing quarterbacks, but that was a bust.
Let’s have a look…
Meet the Las Vegas Raiders’ edge rushers
(By years of experience)
- Chandler Jones, 6-foot-5, 265 lbs., 12 years, 33 years old
- Jordan Willis, 6-foot-4, 270 lbs., 7 years, 28 years old
- Maxx Crosby, 6-foot-5, 255 lbs., 5 years, 25 years old
- Malcolm Koonce, 6-foot-3, 250 lbs., 3 years, 25 years old
- Tyree Wilson, 6-foot-6, 275 lbs., Rookie, 23 years old
- Adam Plant, 6-foot-5, 263 lbs., Rookie, 23 years old
- George Tarlas, 6-foot-3, 253 lbs., Rookie, 24 years old
- David Aghoa, 6-foot-4, 252 lbs., Rookie, 22 years old
Is there a weakest link?
Koonce. Easily could’ve gone a rookie or even Jones here, however. For whatever reason, the Raiders relegated the third-round pick to special teams, with only 68 defensive snaps. While he is smaller than the likes of Crosby and Jones, Koonce was seen as a potential speed rusher who can use his lighter frame to navigate easier around bigger defenders. No dice.
One could surmise that the departure of Clelin Ferrell opens things up for Koonce, but the Raiders replaced the former with Willis, another bigger run defender type with speed to rush the passer.
Who’s flying under the radar for the Raiders?
Willis. He came into the league as a one-dimensional speed rusher with 4.53 speed but has since bulked up and become a much more grounded and powerful presence at the edge. Coming over from the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent this offseason, Willis replaced Ferrell and brings a power-speed component where Ferrell was strictly a power-type.
The 49ers coaching staff spoke highly of Willis during his tenure, and if he can bring a mix of speed and power off the edge, he’ll give Las Vegas a run stuffer with the juice to get around the edge on passing downs. Plant also fits this category as an undrafted free agent who impressed the Raiders in OTAs and minicamp with his work ethic. Plant also has the requisite size and physicality to be in the rotation if he impresses in training camp.
The surefire starter is…
Does this even have to be answered? Crosby is the obvious choice, and Jones is the favorite to start opposite him due to his experience and familiarity with the New England Patriots-based scheme the Raiders deploy in Las Vegas. Taken with the No. 7 overall pick, Wilson could’ve been viewed as a potential starter; however, he has yet to hit the field due to his recovery from a foot injury and surgery.
A look ahead for these Raiders
Maxx Crosby will again be the “must-account-for” edge rusher the Raiders have this coming year. He’s become an adept pass rusher and run stuffer (in the backfield). Let’s face it, that’s not going to change anytime soon, as he’s got the Mamba Mentality. Chandler Jones slimmed down in the offseason and is hoping the weight he lost translates into better durability and pass-rushing ability. Jones can provide Wilson with an excellent on-field teacher, however, and if Tyree Wilson is every bit as powerful as he exhibited at Texas Tech, his presence will be a welcome addition alongside the more agile and angular speed types that Crosby and Jones are.
While Wilson adapts to the pro game, Willis can provide the power component on the edge. Koonce will need a strong training camp to merit a spot, as the undrafted rookies can make noise, too. Particularly Plant, who is a bigger prospect. Aghoa is a product of the NFL International Player Pathway program and was placed with the Raiders after showing well at the NFL Africa camp put on by former NFL defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Uprise Academy. He’s raw, but if he can stick on the practice squad and in an NFL weight room, he’s a stash type.
*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal