The Oakland Raiders will have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL

Oakland Raiders
Oakland Raiders /

The Oakland Raiders had themselves a very polarizing draft, but if everything goes to plan this draft class should give the Raiders one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.

The Oakland Raiders possessed one of the strangest defensive line groups in the NFL last season. Due to the presence of Khalil Mack, one of the best defensive players the league has to offer, one would think the defensive line would be a strength of the team.

This of course has not been the case. The reason for this? Well its quite simple.

Outside of Mack, they stunk last season. The team did not have a single other above average player on the unit– besides maybe Bruce Irvin if you count him, even though he started at linebacker and only blitzed on special packages.

In 2017, the Raiders were ranked 12th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game and 24th in total sacks. To have a player of Mack’s magnitude on your team and still put up such a lackluster performance on the defensive front is inexcusable.

The team went into the offseason with defensive line being a glaring weakness of the team. Mack needed help.

Thankfully, help has arrived. The team made several big moves to address this problem throughout the offseason, and most notably in the draft.

It begun with the team’s decision to move Bruce Irvin to full time defensive end opposite Khalil Mack. Irvin is a clear upgrade at the position over the player who previously occupied that role, Mario Edwards. Edwards registered just 3.5 sacks in 14 games.

This move is a step in the right direction, as Irvin’s pass rushing skills were being wasted at outside linebacker, and Edwards simply is not good enough to start for the team.

If he does not get cut from the team, which is a real possibility, he will be a solid rotational backup for the team next season. Speaking of rotational edge rushers, the team added one more in the third round of the draft.

This player’s name is Arden Key, and he is one of the biggest steals of the entire draft. Coming out of LSU, Key was discussed as someone who could go as high as the first round, but likely at the top of the second. Many teams were scared of taking Key due to off the field issues, which is why he wound up falling to the third round.

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Having first round talent as a pass rusher, adding Key as a backup to Mack and Irvin is an embarrassment of riches. The team now has four capable defensive ends to rotate through. Depth like this at defensive line is a recipe for success for a defense, as seen by last year’s super bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Depth at defensive line is the number one most important thing to have when trying to construct a top tier defense, and the team now has that at defensive end. While the edge rushing of the team has a chance to be phenomenal next season, it does not stop there.

Thanks to the draft, the team possesses similar depth at defensive tackle– but without the high end talent at the top like Mack and Irvin.

The Oakland Raiders used their second and fifth round picks on defensive tackles. Those tackles are Sam Houston State’s P.J. Hall, and Michigan’s Maurice Hurst. Remember how it was mentioned that Arden Key was one of the biggest steals in the draft? Well Hurst has the potential to be the biggest steal of the entire draft.

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Coming into draft season, Hurst was a lock to go in the first round of the draft, being the best interior pass rusher in this year’s class. His draft stock took the biggest hit imaginable when he was sent home from the combine due to heart issues being detected during his physical.

These heart problems caused many teams to believe that Hurst should never play football again, for the sake of his health. Most teams took Hurst off of their draft boards entirely.

Because of this, he fell to the fifth round, where he fell into Oakland’s lap. The Raiders’ doctor’s believe that these heart issues will not be a problem in the NFL, an independent doctor that Hurst visited after the combine came to the same conclusion.

If this is true, the Raiders may have found themselves a star pass rusher in the fifth round. Admittedly, this is a huge “if”, but it is a risk worth taking for just a fifth round pick. Even if these issues derail Hurst’s career, the team still has second round pick, P.J. Hall.

Hall is a player who should be able to come in for the team and contribute for the team immediately.

The two starting defensive tackles from last season, Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis, are two average players. Much like Mario Edwards, they are not good enough to start on an elite defense, but would make very good backups.

If both defensive tackle draft picks go as planned and are able to come in and start immediately, the team will have an interior defensive like just as deep as their edge rushers.

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The team has potential to start a defensive line consisting of Khalil Mack, Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and Bruce Irvin, with players such as Arden Key, Justin Ellis, Eddie Vanderdoes and Mario Edwards rotating in to keep the starters fresh. This is the type of defensive line depth that made defenses such as the 2014 Seahawks, the 2017 Eagles, and the 2017 Jaguars elite.

If all of these players perform as the team expects, the 2018 NFL Draft will be remembered as the draft that gave the Oakland Raiders one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.