The Raiders boast a few elite players on the offensive side of the ball, but what about the defense? We all know Maxx Crosby is toward the top of the NFL at his position. But how does the rest of the unit stack up? Our latest power rankings set out to answer this question!
Power Rankings: Raiders Positional Groups (Defense Only)
As training camp gets underway, let’s do a quick rundown of the positional rankings for Vegas. The five categories in question: Pass rushers, cornerbacks, safeties, interior defensive linemen, and off-ball linebackers. Without further ado, the top spot goes exactly where you might expect.
Raiders Power Rankings — No. 1:
Pass rushers lead the way
The best group on the defense is no surprise. Crosby vaults this unit to the top, even with Chandler Jones seemingly falling off a cliff in 2022. Although Crosby is an elite talent in his own right, the fact this position takes the win is just as much about the lackluster options elsewhere on defense.
•Maxx Crosby: The Raiders franchise player is fresh off a 15-sack performance. He is the focal point of Patrick Graham’s defense and a headache for opposing quarterbacks. Crosby is a premier pass rusher in this league, and the best part is: He is just getting started.
•Chandler Jones: The 2022 season was the worst of his illustrious career. Still, Jones can turn back the clock from time to time. Playing opposite Crosby sure helps out a lot.
•Tyree Wilson: The rookie is unproven and currently injured, but he possesses elite potential as a pass rusher and run defender. The Raiders must exhibit patience with Wilson; his upside is unlimited.
•Jordan Willis: Willis was an incredibly underrated signing by general manager Dave Ziegler. He doesn’t jump off the screen but should be a serviceable rotational pass rusher on the defensive line.
Raiders Power Rankings — No. 2:
Cornerback has promise
It takes some deep diving into the analytics and tape to find the optimism in this cornerback group. But I assure you, the optimism does exist. From the most recent draft pick, Jakorian Bennett, to free agent signing Duke Shelley to Nate Hobbs, this unit could shock folks in 2023.
•Nate Hobbs: The former Illinois star posted stellar numbers serving as the nickel in 2021. He moved out to the boundary last season, resulting in a drastic dip in coverage grade (via Pro Football Focus). We will see where Hobbs winds up, but hopefully, he sees more time in the slot in 2023.
•Jakorian Bennett: The Maryland product is an otherworldly athlete, evidenced by his jaw-dropping Combine workout. He is not the best tackler in the world, but it is not from a lack of effort. Expect Bennett to crack the lineup sooner than later with his trademark intensity.
•Duke Shelley: I am becoming a Shelley truther. He recorded the third-highest coverage grade in 2022 (minimum 200 coverage snaps). That put him behind Patrick Surtain II and Sauce Gardner. Those two are the only ones. Can he do this throughout a 17-game slate? It remains to be seen. But only a fool would bet against him at this point.
•Marcus Peters: The former first-round pick brings invaluable experience and a long track record of forcing turnovers. With 32 career interceptions and 54 pass breakups, Peters is a proven commodity for Patrick Graham. The 30-year-old defender missed 2021 with a torn ACL and his performance in 2022 was shaky at best. Still, Peters is a worthwhile flyer and I expect him to seize a starting role.
•David Long Jr.: The former Ram has not moved the needle in his NFL career. After spending four seasons with Los Angeles, Long Jr. will compete for a roster spot at training camp.
•Tyler Hall: The biggest wildcard of the bunch is Hall. He was phenomenal in 151 coverage snaps in 2022, primarily playing in the slot. It will be interesting to see who makes the roster and where they all will play.
Raiders Power Rankings — No. 3:
Safety… I guess?
Safety is iffy for me, as I believe in the group’s talent, but it takes some projecting.
•Trevon Moehrig: The former TCU Horned Frog was lauded for his immense range in college. He performed well as a rookie, but year two saw his coverage grade drop to an abysmal 49.0. Which version of Moehrig will the Raiders get in 2023? The answer to that question likely determines the unit’s success as a whole.
•Christopher Smith II: The team’s most recent fifth-round pick is one of my breakout players to watch in training camp. Smith could force the hand of the Raiders by flexing his trademark range and underrated run-stuffing ability. Don’t be surprised if the former Georgia standout logs more snaps than the next name on this list.
•Marcus Epps: The 27-year-old safety saw the most action of his career for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in 2022. He fetched a borderline elite grade in run defense but was a liability anytime he got caught in coverage. Vegas will welcome his reliable tackling, but he could be more of a rotational piece than anything.
Raiders Power Rankings — No. 4:
Off-ball linebackers are a weakness
The final two positional groups are clear liabilities for the Raiders. Truthfully, the order could go either way. But we will start with the middle level of the defense.
•Divine Deablo: The defense’s “green dot” player has received rave reviews from the coaching staff this offseason. Deablo is a sure-tackler with gobs of God-given athleticism. He is still undersized, but you rarely notice it on the field. The Virginia Tech product is the one shining light at linebacker.
•Robert Spillane: Spillane is a former undrafted free agent who found a place with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past four seasons. He is not a player you want to see in coverage, but the 229-pounder is more committed in the run game than you might expect.
•Amari Burney: The former four-star safety is undergoing a transition to linebacker. He has the intensity and explosiveness to make plays, but I worry about his overall size. Graham must have a plan if Burney is to succeed as a linebacker.
•Luke Masterson: Frankly, I dislike bashing players to this extent, but I have to be honest in my analysis. Masterson is not an NFL player. I hope he proves me wrong and carves out a career in the league. It would surprise me, though.
•Darien Butler: Unfortunately, the same is true of Butler based on his draft capital and limited reps on tape. If he plays many snaps in 2023, the Raiders are in trouble.
Raiders Power Rankings — No. 5:
Interior defensive line is the obvious bottom-feeder
It is hard to find a smidge of optimism with the interior of the defensive line.
•Byron Young: It is never a good sign when arguably the best player at the position has yet to log an NFL snap. But that is the case for Young and the Raiders. The Alabama alum begins training camp on the PUP list, casting doubt over his availability early on.
•Bilal Nichols: The former Bear is not particularly good in any one area. He creates pressure from the interior and has the ability to stuff gaps in the run game — albeit very inconsistently. Nichols should not be a starter on any NFL team.
•Jerry Tillery: Going further, Tillery might be out of the league altogether if he continues down the path he is on. He cannot stop the run, is a piss-poor tackler, and struggled to get home vs. the quarterback in 2022. Teams will run all over the Raiders.
•Nesta Jade Silvera: A seventh-round flier, Silvera could crack his way into the lineup if Nichols and Tillery don’t show improvement in 2023. I graded the Arizona State star as an undrafted free agent, but he has impressed in his short time with the Silver and Black. Injuries and lackluster play might be enough for the 231st pick to get an opportunity.
*Top Photo: Chris Unger/Getty Images