There are glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball on all three levels for the Raiders as they enter their first season in Las Vegas.
Watching Patrick Mahomes shred the San Francisco 49ers stout defense in the Super Bowl was downright scary, and while all the focus on the Las Vegas Raiders this season has revolved around Derek Carr, it shouldn't. The biggest problem the Raiders face in terms of overcoming the Chiefs in the division is their defense, which has their issues on all three levels.
Last season, we saw growth on all three levels, but this defense is nowhere close to where it needs to be in order to cause havoc in the conference. Sure, the defensive line improved vastly, and they have some exciting young and talented players in the secondary, but this offseason will prove huge in terms of upgrading the entire group.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther came under fire for most of the 2019 season, and you can sure the front office is going to do everything they can to invest in the defense this offseason. The Raiders have done a nice job revamping the roster as a whole since Mike Mayock took over as general manager, but there is a lot of work to be done.
Let us dive into all three levels of the defense here.
Coming off a 2018 season where the team was pitiful in terms of getting after the quarterback, the Raiders saw a major upgrade along the defensive line. Rookies Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby played huge roles in Year No. 1, and Crosby finished the season with double-digit sacks, proving to be one of the steals of the 2019 NFL Draft.
In addition, second-year pros P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst took another step in the right direction, and veterans Josh Mauro, Benson Mayowa, and Dion Jordan all stepped up for the Silver and Black. Overall, this was a unit that was vastly improved from the year before, but there is still work to be done.
Mayowa, Mauro, and Jordan are all going to be free agents, and it will be interesting to see whether or not they bring them back in 2020. You can make a case for all three being back, and even if the are all back, the Raiders have to add talent via free agency, or the 2020 NFL Draft at defensive tackle.
Las Vegas has a good salary cap number this offseason, and five of the first 91 selections in the NFL Draft, so they could get a guy who instantly makes this unit better in 2020. Being strong up front on both sides of the ball has been the priority for the team in recent years, and they cannot stop stacking talent this offseason.
Looking at the 2020 Raiders as a whole, one could make a definite argument that the linebacker position is the one in most need of an upgrade. Sure, Twitter will be ablaze with Derek Carr talk, and the wide receiver group, but the truth is, the linebacker group was an absolute liability once again in 2019.
The loss of Vontaze Burfict due to suspension early hurt the unit, and while the team tried to piece together a starting group around Tahir Whitehead, they never could find the right mix. Nicholas Morrow, Will Compton, and Kyle Wilber, along with Burfict will all be free agents this offseason, so there is a lot of work to be done.
Las Vegas holds two first round picks in 2020, and the odds are they will use at least one of them at the linebacker position. Isaiah Simmons from Clemson is the best overall talent at the position group, but sitting at No. 12 overall, the Raiders may not be high enough to get him, and would have to trade up for his services.
At No. 19, they could add a talent like Patrick Queen from LSU, or Kenneth Murray from Oklahoma, two athletic guys who can come in and start right away. In addition, there are some outstanding options in free agency this offseason, including Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert, Dante Fowler Jr., and Blake Martinez, all players who could be difference makers for Guenther in 2020.
The Raiders secondary added some key pieces this past offseason, bringing in Lamarcus Joyner via free agency, re-signing Daryl Worley to a one-year deal, and selecting both Johnathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen early in the 2019 NFL Draft. While Abram missed nearly the entire year due to his shoulder, Mullen proved to be a potential CB1 for the Silver and Black, something the franchise has been looking for.
As they enter Las Vegas, the safety position should be set if they bring back Karl Joseph and team him with Abram, Erik Harris, and Lamarcus Joyner. Of course, if the Raiders do move on from KuJo, then they have enough talent at the starting spots, especially if Abram is half the player the fan base expects him to be.
At cornerback, Mullen is locked in at No. 1, and Worley should be right there with him in the starting lineup. Keisean Nixon is a good-looking young prospect at the position, but there is still work to be one. In free agency, guys like Byron Jones and Logan Ryan, and there is some elite talent to be hard in the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Worley should be brought back as a free agent, and with Joyner moving over to safety, that group could be one of the best in the division. The Raiders have had their issues in the defensive backfield for as long as I can remember, but they are stacking young talent, and may be a piece or two away from being actually stout back there for a long time.