The Las Vegas Raiders upgraded all three levels of their defense this offseason, and they could be much better than advertised in 2020.
Don't look now, but the Las Vegas Raiders are slowly putting together the pieces of what could be a solid defense this upcoming season. While that may sound like blasphemy to some, the fact is, the Raiders got better on all three levels of their defense this offseason, and it will show on the field in 2020.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Raiders used two of their draft picks on defensive tackle, bring in P.J. Hall in the second round, and Maurice Hurst in the fifth. Prior to a heart issue being detected at the Combine, many believed Hurst would be a first round talent, and entering his third season, he appears to be on the brink of becoming a Pro Bowl.
This season, Hall and Hurst will be joined by Maliek Collins, who was a key free agent signing early this offseason. Johnathan Hankins returns at defensive tackle, giving new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli some young, and talented tackles to coach up this season.
On the edges, Maxx Crosby enters his second season in the league, and is fresh off a double-digit sack rookie campaign. Many expect Clelin Ferrell to take a step in the right direction in Year 2, and Carl Nassib was paid good money to come in and provide depth as well.
If Arden Key can come back healthy, that is four solid edge rushers.
On the second level, where the Raiders have struggled so much in recent years, the linebacker group was upgraded in a big way this offseason. Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, two free agent signings, are both solid in coverage, an area of deficiency that has decimated this Raiders defense recently.
Tanner Muse from Clemson was a third round pick this April, and will be moving solely to linebacker after serving as a hybrid for Dabo Swinney. This is a kid who can fly all over the field, and it will be interesting to see how he is deployed this Fall.
Finally, the secondary was revamped at cornerback, as guys like Damon Arnette and Prince Amukamara were brought in to help out Trayvon Mullen at cornerback. Mullen looked all the bit the part of a CB1 late in the 2019 NFL season, and should continue to trend in the right direction in Year 2.
A wildcard here is Lamarcus Joyner, who was used as a nickel corner last season for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. If he moves to safety, Amik Robertson is there to fill that void, and many feel he was one of the steals of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Staying with safety, the Raiders will get a full look at Johnathan Abram this season, after the fiery defensive back was injured in Game 1 in 2019. Erik Harris also returns, and the additions of Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath make this position group better and deeper.
Outside of the obvious guys, there is depth at all three levels, and some names to keep an eye on are Isaiah Johnson, who was injured for most of his rookie season, and Keisean Nixon, two corners who could make an impact. Marquel Lee should be healthy in 2020, and undrafted guys like Javin White and Madre Harper will look to latch on as well.
Of course, one of keys of this whole thing is Guenther, who has been the focus of disdain for many Raiders fans since he took over as defensive coordinator. This defense has more talent, and more depth than it has in years, and if he falters as DC, Marinelli is waiting in the wings.