Depth at Defensive End a Concern for Oakland Raiders
By Vic Lopez
Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The need for pass rush in a division ruled by Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers can’t be overstated. The Oakland Raiders ranked 21st in defense last year, and 27th against the pass…not exactly inspiring numbers.
Reggie McKenzie has brought in two dynamic pass rushers in Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley, who in 2009 might have been the top pass rushing duo in the NFL. But in 2014, are more solid upgrades than redefining players.
Both Tuck and Woodley are veterans who bring a winning pedigree, but also concern for health and decline. Woodley has been hampered by injuries over the past three seasons, missing 14 games in total. Woodley is dynamic when healthy, but lingering injuries do not tend to go away as you get older. It is hard to knock Justin Tuck as old, he is only 31. But in football years it is a slight concern. To me, I belive pass rushers who rely on intelligence, strength, and technique over elite physical talent the way Tuck does, can be very effective even late in their careers.
Before the Seattle Seahawk’s dominate defense brought them a Lombardi, it was Justin Tuck and the Giants who won Super Bowl’s with defense. The Seahawks used the Giants model, acquiring numerous pass rushers, and unleashing them on opposing QB’s. The Oakland Raiders would be smart to follow that model to success.
Jan 29, 2014; New York, NY, USA; William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports
Outside of Woodley and Tuck, the Raiders depth at defensive end is a serious concern. Furthermore a new class of young talent at the position is sorely needed.
Current backups Jack Crawford and Ryan Robinson leave a lot to be desired. Both are young and unproven, and at best project as developmental prospects who are best suited for minor roles in 2014.
Jack Crawford is an intriguing prospect. The 6-5, 281lbs defensive end out of Penn State was a 5th round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and has all the physical talent to be effective. But like fellow UK breed tackle Menelik Watson, Crawford is short on football playing experience.
Ryan Robinson the undrafted rookie from last year, has been a solid special teams player, but is far from a starter at DE. Robinson beat out David Bass last off-season, despite Bass being projected as a possible late round steal for the Raiders. Bass was eventually cut and picked up by the Bears.
Injuries to either Tuck or Woodley would be a disaster for the Raiders. A lack of pass rush in this division, while playing the leagues toughest schedule in 2014 would be a tall mountain to climb. An effective pass rush is the most important element to a defense, and is the key to help improve a poor pass defense.
Looking ahead in the draft, the Raiders could bring in several young playmakers at defensive end, while allowing Tuck and Woodley to mold them into eventual starters.
Outside of Jadeveon Clowney, the DE class of prospects in this years draft is rather thin. I predict Clowney to be off the board long before the Raiders pick at #5, which will force Oakland to look deeper in the draft for pass rushing talent.
A possible target in the mid to late first round is defensive end Kony Ealy out of Missouri. Kony Ealy is a long armed, quick twitch athlete who is an ideal 4-3 defensive end. While Michael Sam got many accolades and attention for his play last year, it was Ealy who was drawing double teams and the opponents best pass blockers every game. At 6’4 273 Ealy has great burst and awareness, and has a knack for creating turnovers.
Kony Ealy would serve well as a supreme backup to Tuck and Woodley, while learning the craft from two of the best. Other notable rookie defensive ends to watch are Scott Crichton, Jackson Jeffcoat, Kareem Martin, and Marcus Smith. Oakland could double up on defensive ends this draft, and keep the pass rush coming.
Available free agents include Will Smith, Anthony Spencer, and two former Raiders Jason Hunter and Andre Carter. Smith the former New Orleans Saint seems to be the popular option, and is familiar with Dennis Allen from his days in the NO. Anthony Spencer the injury prone, yet effective pass rusher is not set to be available until training camp after micro fracture surgery. Two former Raiders Andre Carter and last years starter Jason Hunter are also still unsigned, and could bring added depth and experience.
In conclusion, the Raiders would smart to pick up some young talent at DE in this years draft. One or two additional pass rushers would wreak havoc on opposing QB’s. Remember in today’s NFL….you can never have too many pass rushers.
Note: This is not a “Mock Draft” or prediction for the #5 Pick. This is about depth and options for Raiders. Trade down, Free Agent and mid-round possibilities.