Oakland Raiders: Potential Upgrades At Every Position

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Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) prior to facing the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line: Projected Starters – Justin Tuck, Justin Ellis, Antonio Smith, C.J. Wilson

It’s impossible to think the Raiders would go through this off season without upgrading the defensive line. The Raiders run defense was bad last year. I don’t believe that has as much to do with the defensive players as much as it had to do with how bad the offense played.

Too many three and outs from the offense made the defensive linemen worn down early in games. Teams were able to average 30 run plays per game agains them last year to control the clock and keep the defense on the field.

I give the defensive line a lot of credit for the fight they put up given the situation. When teams are running that much, it makes it hard to have an effective pass rush. All that being said, what matters is results. The result, 22 sacks on the season by the Raiders. 11 of those sacks were by defensive linemen, 5 coming from Tuck and 3 from Antonio Smith.

So, upgrades are needed. They’ve been being talked about for months now. The big name out there, obviously is Ndamukong Suh from Detroit. If Reggie is willing to break the bank for Suh, so be it. It is not necessarily Reggie’s style, and I honestly don’t predict he’ll do it, but if he was to offer Suh a $100 million contract, I’d be ok with it.

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  • Suh is the only Defensive Tackle to rank in the Top 7 in both pass rush and run stopping. To make room on the roster, Antonio Smith does have one more year on his contract, but with none of his salary guaranteed, he can be cut and the Raiders won’t take a cap hit. But, Smith was not only one of the best players on the Raiders’ defense last season, but one of the best at his position in the NFL.

    Smith ranked 3rd in pass rushing among all Defensive Tackles in the NFL, that’s four spots higher than Suh. Rookie Justin Ellis complimented Smith very nicely, ranking 15th overall at stopping the run. So right now, the Raiders do have a solid duo in Smith and Ellis when lining up in a 4-3 defense, and a perfect situational rotation when lining up in a 3-4.

    The other side to that coin is while Smith ranked very high against the pass, he was almost dead last against the run. Ellis, was almost dead last against the pass. So, Suh could come in and effectively replace both of them, giving Ellis the role of situational sub on running downs if Suh needed a breather.

    Another name who has come up is Terrance Knighton from Denver. Knighton has made it no secret that he likes playing for Jack Del Rio, and will gladly play wherever his coach is. Knighton would be an instant upgrade, but in the long run he’s just an older, more refined Ellis. Very solid against the run, and while he is better than Ellis in the pass rush department, he’s still not very good at it.

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  • I believe Ellis will improve, and could possibly be just as good as Knighton in 2015, or 2016. Having two players in the same position with the same skill set, especially when one is on a rookie contract and the other is deserving a pretty decent pay day, doesn’t seem logical to me.

    Knighton could add depth to the position, but I think Suh is the only true upgrade to the Defensive Tackle position. I have to say though, it would be cool to see Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, line up next to Justin “Jelly” Ellis, with a combined weight of 666 lbs, you can pretty much guarantee that no team would be running up the middle on them.

    Defensive End is the spot I think needs to the biggest upgrade this off season for the Defensive Line. If Reggie isn’t willing to spend the big bucks to get Suh, he might be willing to spend them on Jason Pierre-Paul from the Giants.

    Tuck’s old teammate has expressed that he believes he’s worth J.J. Watt money. While JPP didn’t catch 3 touchdown passes like Watt, or grab a pick six, and recover a fumble for a touchdown like Watt; he did rack up 12.5 sacks on the season and had six batted balls, along with three forced fumbles.

    Pierre-Paul isn’t worth the kind of money he has expressed he wants, but with a little encouragement from his old friend Justin Tuck, he may come to Oakland for a bit more reasonable price tag. Personally, I think JPP is the big splash defensive lineman the Raiders should grab.

    Then, the draft. This draft is littered with gifted linemen, even into the second round instant starters could be had. The obvious choice, is USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. If Williams falls to #4 overall, the Raiders have no choice but to take him.

    This is the reason I like JPP over Suh in free agency. Williams has a similar motor to Khalil Mack, could get disruption in the middle making it so the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket to avoid Tuck or Mack coming around the outside.

    Why break the bank on Suh, when Williams is a much cheaper option with just as much potential? If the Raiders do land Suh in free agency, then the alternative is simple, Randy Gregory becomes the new target at the number four spot. If he makes it that far.

    For me, the ideal situation would be landing JPP in free agency, and drafting Leonard Williams. Making the starting D-Line JPP, Ellis, Williams, and Tuck. The Raiders would have a defensive line to rival that of the Rams if they could make that happen, which is a big ask for general manager Reggie McKenzie even if it is possible with the right amount of moving/dealing this offseason.

    Next: Offseason Upgrades: Cornerback