Oakland Raiders Free Agency: Examining the Roster, One Week Later

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Dec 7, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck (91) celebrates after a sack against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Raiders defeated the San Francisco 49ers 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

6. Defensive Line

Players let go and released: LaMarr Woodley, Pat Sims, CJ Wilson

Players signed: Dan Williams

Incumbents: Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, Justin Ellis, Benson Mayowa, Stacy McGee, Ricky Lumpkin, Denico Autry, Shelby Harris, Kona Schwenke

Probable starters: Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, Dan Williams, Benson Mayowa

Since the arrival of the McKenzie administration, defense has been a point of emphasis for the Raiders. After former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen did not work out, McKenzie went out and hired another former Broncos defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio to be his second head coach as Raider GM. Defense has been a point of emphasis in McKenzie’s drafts (14 of 24 draft picks in the McKenzie era have been defensive players) and in free agent acquisitions (11 of 22 during the month of March in 2014 and 2015 combined).

The defensive line last year was a patchwork of veteran free agent acquisitions with a few young drafted players playing some contributing roles. This offseason, Reggie McKenzie took a strong run at top-tier defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency, but lost out to the Dolphins. McKenzie then failed to lure former Dolphins 3-tech man Jared Odrick. The team also made an offer to Terrance Knighton, but Knighton felt the offer was too low and shut down talks, only to end up taking even less money elsewhere after the Raiders signed Dan Williams.

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  • Last year, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith were full-time starters for the team at the strongside end (5-tech) and weakside tackle (3-tech) positions, respectively. Pat Sims eventually lost the starting nose tackle job to rookie Justin Ellis, and LaMarr Woodley started the year at the weakside end, but missed the last ten games due to injury. Benson Mayowa and CJ Wilson took turns at that position, Mayowa as more of a LEO, wide-7/9 alignment and Wilson as more of a traditional 4-3 end.

    Right now the Raiders look to have a very deep rotation in the interior, where Dan Williams and Justin Ellis are both quality starting nose tackles who will probably split the snaps 50-50 to stay fresh. Antonio Smith will have Stacy McGee and/or Ricky Lumpkin rotating in behind him, though none of these three adds up to a single Ndamukong Suh.

    The ends of the Raider defensive front do look a bit thin. Mayowa, a capable edge player, is more of a LEO end or linebacker hybrid who may not be the type of player who can line up in that position on every down. Tuck came on strong late last year, but is getting up there in years and may be declining. Denico Autry saw a good amount of playing time, especially late in the year, but is still a very raw player with a lot of question marks, and Shelby Harris played well in preseason but spent most of the season on the practice squad, and recorded only two tackles in the season finale against Denver. Harris, who is 6’2″ and 288 pounds, may ultimately be a better fit as a 3-tech tackle in the Raider defense.

    Still, with the versatile Khalil Mack on the roster and a draft full of quality edge players, there is hope for the exterior of the Raiders defensive front. Jack Del Rio does prefer to use a 4-3 front, but may use 3-man fronts more heavily in 2015, or he may decide to use Mack as a weakside end because of his stellar combination of pass rushing skill and edge run prowess. Look for the Raiders to draft an edge player, perhaps someone like CJ Mosley or Dante Fowler, or perhaps use that high second rounder to grab a more traditional 4-3 end like UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa. And if by some luck USC’s Leonard Williams falls to #4 overall, there’s no question that he’ll be starting on this defensive front come September.

    Next: Raiders Roster Breakdown: Linebacker