Oakland Raiders depth chart projections: Defense/ST

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May 8, 2015; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (97) at rookie minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line

Last year, after cutting ties with fan favorite Lamarr Houston, Reggie McKenzie went out and added a bunch of veterans to the defensive line: former Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl champions Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, long-time Houston Texan Antonio Smith, and former Packer role-player (and also Super Bowl Champion) C.J. Wilson. He also grabbed up some rookie talent in the draft, including the massive Justin Ellis in the 4th round.

This new look defensive line underperformed in Jason Tarver’s defense. LaMarr Woodley could not make the switch from rush linebacker to defensive end effectively and then was lost for the season halfway through the year. The rest of the unit took until way too late in the season to gel, though Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and C.J. Wilson all contributed to some more solid performances down the stretch. And while the Raiders pass rush – bolstered by 5th overall pick linebacker (and occasional defensive end) Khalil Mack – seemed to get stronger and stronger as the year went on, the team finished with a mere 22 sacks, only 12 of which were contributed by full-time defensive linemen.

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On the plus side, the Raiders did get a lot of great veteran leadership – and five sacks – out of the aging Justin Tuck, and found a good young nose tackle in rookie Justin Ellis in 2014. Waiver wire acquisition Benson Mayowa, who was brought in to take the injured LaMarr Woodley’s place, also showed some flashes of pass rush ability and was sturdy against the run as a LEO end, and young players like Denico Autry and Ricky Lumpkin had some moments as well.

Some analysts and experts – and a certain amateur fan blog staff writer – thought the Raiders would use the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft to address the weakness in the defensive front by adding Leonard Williams out of USC, whom many believe was the best player available in the draft class and a once in a generation defensive talent. Reggie McKenzie also ruffled a lot of fans’ feathers when he didn’t enter the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes, and many were also surprised when the Raiders didn’t pursue former Jacksonville and Denver tackle Terrance Knighton, who has played for Jack Del Rio nearly his entire career.

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  • Instead the Raiders grabbed a less heralded but certainly capable veteran defensive tackle, Dan Williams, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. The Raiders cut ties with Woodley and, surprisingly, Antonio Smith, but re-signed C.J. Wilson, who is much younger than the other veteran free agents he came in with in 2014. The Raiders went to the defensive line with their 2nd round draft selection, taking Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who had played under new linebackers coach Sal Sunseri for the Seminoles. Edwards, a pedigreed player with a lot of athletic ability and upside, had underperformed in his final year of collegiate play and was not expected to go as high as 35th overall. The Raiders also drafted Virginia rush linebacker Max Valles late, and announced that he would be used as a defensive end, after leading all ACC linebackers in sacks last season. The Raiders moved to add two more defensive linemen as priority undrafted free agents: tackle Leon Orr and end Gary Wilkins.

    And though there is some degree of turnover at the top of the depth chart this year, the Raiders return a number of young defensive linemen who have been developing with the franchise, either as former draft picks or undrafted free agents. Stacy McGee, Ricky Lumpkin, Denico Autry, Shelby Harris and of course Justin Ellis have all 3 or fewer years experience, all with the Raiders organization. The Raiders also return Benson Mayowa, C.J. Wilson, and Justin Tuck.

    With defensive mind Jack Del Rio installed as head coach and Ken Norton Jr. in as defensive coordinator, it’s likely that the Raiders will use some variation of a 4-3 Under/Over base, or a 4-3 look but with 3-4 type personnel in a one-gap attack that loads up the line of scrimmage on the offense’s strong side. Like all modern NFL defenses, of course, the base is just a base, and Del Rio and Norton likely will use multiple fronts and various personnel depending on situation.

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  • On the inside, the Raiders may not necessarily run a traditional big and bigger 3-tech and nose-tech look with their defensive tackles. With Justin Ellis and Dan Williams on the roster, the Raiders may opt to go with both bigs occupying 1-techniques on the inside. But Ellis and Williams may also be rotational players at the nose spot, allowing both massive players to remain fresh keep their legs for four quarters. Leon Orr, the 323 pound undrafted rookie, is also going to be used in this role in preseason but may not make it out of camp. Meanwhile, the Raiders have a slew of big but not enormous men who could be a fit as more traditional 3-technique tackles, the role Antonio Smith had last year. The aforementioned C.J. Wilson is about 305 pounds with quick feet and some pass-rush ability and could be the guy there. Stacy McGee had a promising rookie year in 2013 but was hurt much of last year. Ricky Lumpkin got on the field a bit last year, and could compete for the role as well.

    What is most important with a defensive line is to have a quality rotation and to have the ability to present multiple looks to counter what the offense throws at you. The Raiders will want to have a variety of defensive line weapons to use against the tough offenses they will face this season, the type of defensive line who can harass Peyton Manning twice a year, but also slow down Jamaal Charles twice a year.



    1. Justin Tuck (SDE)

    2. Mario Edwards (WDE)

    3. Benson Mayowa

    4. C.J. Wilson


    1. Dan Williams

    2. Justin Ellis

    3. Stacy McGee

    4. Ricky Lumpkin

    PRACTICE SQUAD: Leon Orr, Max Valles

    RELEASED: Shelby Harris, Denico Autry, Gary Wilkins

    Next: Depth Chart Projections: Linebackers