Look, we all know it: The Silver and Black tends to foul things up more than hitting the mark. History hasn’t been kind to the franchise for the past two decades. But that doesn’t mean the Las Vegas Raiders (and their past incarnations) are truly devoid of success. A broken watch is at least right twice a day.
Case in point: The Silver and Black habitually draft University at Buffalo defenders, developing them into quarterback terrorizers.
Malcolm Koonce Is Grabbing The Bull By The Horns
Before Khalil Mack donned a Raiders jersey after being selected fifth overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, there was Trevor Scott, a throw-away thought of a sixth-round pick in 2008 by the Oakland variant of the Silver & Black. Mack, of course, is the pass-rush revelation, compiling 40.5 sacks in his four-year tenure as a Raider (he’s since notched 36 QB takedowns in four years with the Chicago Bears and 23 with the Los Angeles Chargers, giving him 99.5 in his career). But Scott was a breath of fresh air as a defensive end and stand-up linebacker, racking up 12 sacks in his first two seasons in Oakland.
Malcolm Koonce has joined the bodacious Buffalioans to give the Raiders some much-needed pass rush juice. And like the university’s mascot, Koonce has grabbed the bull by the horns.
Malcolm Koonce beats LT clean with double hand swipe then dip move showing elite bend for the strip sack. Spillane comes on sim pressure and beats the RB to provide additional pressure. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/lJgcGaF650
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) December 20, 2023
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound 25-year-old may not have eye-popping numbers with 32 total tackles and four sacks through 14 games thus far in Las Vegas’ 2023 campaign. But considering the minimal impact Koonce’s had since being a third-round pick in 2021 (the 79th prospect taken overall), his leap this year is a revelation of its own.
In the pass-happy/aerial attack the NFL has evolved into…
In the pass happy/aerial attack the NFL has evolved into, Koonce going from miniscule snaps in year one, special teamer in year two, and a verge player in year three, the New York native has carved out 373 defensive snaps this season (40% of the entire Raiders defensive plays) while still being a special team contributor (237 snaps, which is 60% of that unit’s total).
And in those snaps, according to Pro Football Reference, Koonce has generated 16 pressures, three hurries, and five quarterback hits, to go along with his four sacks, two forced fumbles, and 32 total tackles.
Again, not eye-grabbing digits, however, for a rush-starved Raiders defense that invested the seventh-overall pick in the 2023 draft on raw defensive end Tyree Wilson (26 total tackles, 2.5 sacks thus far) and looking the complementary piece opposite the incomparable Maxx Crosby, Koonce’s ascension is a welcome sight. Especially for a player who rarely saw the light of day on defense.
“Again, there have been certain players that you watch from afar, and you say, ‘Man, if this happened and that happened, this may happen’. And I think Malcolm is a prime example,” Raiders interim head coach Antonio Pierce said of Koonce. “Sometimes you try to put a player in a certain role that doesn’t fit them. And I think we found that role for Malcolm; we’ve adapted to the player because he’s a legit guy that can turn a corner and burn, and you can see the explosiveness.”
Hold up; rewind that a second.
“We’ve adapted to the player.” What a novel concept, huh?
It may seem so elementary—the notion of putting players in the best possible position to succeed. But the execution of that is what separates good coaches from dunces (I’m looking at you, Josh McDaniels, and Brandon Staley—the real-life Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne of Dumb & Dumber lore).
The Raiders saw how Koonce screams off the edge and pressures quarterbacks and not only refined his pass rush toolkit but are allowing him to do so. We’re seeing that too with how the team is transitioning Wilson from the edge to inside at defensive tackle.
“I mean, you know what you get on the other side, on the left side with 98 (Crosby), right?” Pierce noted. “But now, when you see that coming from the other side with 51 (Koonce) and 9 (Wilson) with the push, it’s very promising and good to see. But that’s something that I saw personally, and that’s something that I wanted us to get to, getting four D-ends out there on the field, three D-ends.”
How is Patrick Graham deploying Malcolm Koonce?
Graham, who is deploying Koonce in the hunter-killer role, provided his insight on developing the third-year defensive end—someone who doesn’t have the prototypical size and length desired from a pass rusher, mind you.
“Malcolm is a skilled player in terms of speed, quickness, the ability to bend, playing with his hands, and just the consistency of his showing up. And where did it start? Started in practice. I mean, you can ask everybody on defense,” Graham began. “I said that’s why he’s getting better. So, again, no matter how we adapt to it, it’s our job to put them in the right spots and make sure we’re teaching them the right things. But I think, just like Malcolm’s done, I never want to give us too much credit. It’s him making the decision to practice the right way, get better, improve, and put in the necessary work; that’s just what it comes down to in professional football.”
It’s well documented that Crosby practices the way he plays, and you see the results. He provided one hell of a baptism for rookie tight end Michael Mayer by planting him into the ground in training camp—and look at Mayer now.
Koonce doing the same makes it no surprise as to his effectiveness on game day. While his sack numbers are relatively low, watch 51 as the Raiders embark on the final three games of the 2023 season. Chances are you’re going to see a defender who is using a varied rush and converting power to speed—and vice versa—to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. His two sacks against the Chargers were of the strip variety, and both times, the Raiders recovered the loose ball.
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2023
Practice makes perfect…
Practice makes perfect—it’s a hackneyed phrase, without question. But it holds significant truths, too.
“So, it’s not just coach speak when we say that,” Graham said. “I mean, you could probably ask him that, but I don’t want to speak for him.”
Malcolm Koonce’s actions have spoken loudly enough.
*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal