3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders defense in 2020

With the Las Vegas Raiders defense rebuilding and some key players returning, here are three bold predictions for the Raiders defense in 2020

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Raiders DE Maxx Crosby (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Raiders took two different approaches to building on the 2019 squad that finished 7-9 and was within shouting distance of 9-7. They used the NFL Draft to add weapons on offense and looked to free agency to fill in the holes on a porous defense that struggled down the stretch.

Defensively the Raiders looked to have a middle of the pack unit that could do just enough to keep them in games but they caught the injury and suspension bug and before long they were signing street free agents to start games. Both the linebacker and defensive back units went through some incredible turnover from Week 1 to 17 and the struggles were a direct result of that.

In 2020 however the Raiders have more depth on defense than they have had in many years and have the look of a unit that can swing games in many different ways. With all of the new faces and those returning from injury, the Raiders defense has a chance to be special in 2020. Exactly how special?

Let's take a look in our crystal ball and find out.

3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders defense in 2020

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Raiders DE Maxx Crosby (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Raiders defense sends 3 players to Pro Bowl

It has been a few years since the Raiders have sent a defensive player to the Pro Bowl as the most recent was Khalil Mack in 2017. 2016 was the last season that the Raiders sent two players to the Pro Bowl as Reggie Nelson joined Mack in Hawaii but that has happened several times in franchise history.

Sending three players to the NFL's all star game is a rare achievement but it has also been done a few times by the Silver and Black.

In 1983 and 1984 the Raiders defense had five Pro Bowlers which is the franchise high mark so far which has not been matched in the years since. If the Raiders had a top-3 defense in 2020 then maybe 5 Pro Bowlers would be realistic but we would gladly settle for 3.

The 3 most likely candidates for that honor are DE Maxx Crosby, LB Cory Littleton, and SS Johnathan Abram. Crosby terrorized opposing defenses as a rookie and finished tied for 11th in the NFL in sacks with 10 and tied for 5th in tackles for loss with 16. He will undoubtedly attract more attention in 2020 but will have a better defensive line around him to draw double teams away from him as well.

Littleton was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2018 season for his contributions on special teams but will have an excellent chance to be named to the 2020 squad for his play on defense. His resume in 2019 was borderline Pro Bowl-worthy as he finished top 10 in the NFL in tackles, 6th in INTs among linebackers, and 1st in fumble recoveries among LBs.

Littleton will be given free reign to make plays in Paul Guenther's defense as Nick Kwiatkoski will hande play-calling duties and should be making his second trip to the Pro Bowl.

Johnathan Abram is the wildcard as we only saw him in limited action in 2019 but these are bold predictions for a reason. Abram will be the leader of this resurgent defensive unit and will quickly establish himself as one of the most feared safeties in the AFC.

He faces some stiff competition at strong safety in New York's Jamal Adams but he may be on his way out of the conference after his recent trade demands.

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3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders defense in 2020

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Raiders CB Trayvon Mullen (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Raiders defense will record 15 INTs and 40 sacks

Before you scoff at the numbers, let's take a look at the Raiders interception and sack totals in 2019. Last year the Raiders recorded 9 interceptions, 29th in the league, and 32 sacks, enough for 25th in the league. The jump from 9 to 15 and 32 to 40 may sound like an incredible leap but it is quite realistic given the new additions on defense.

Last season the turnover in the Raiders' defensive backfield was incredible as Daryl Worley was the only player to start both games in a 4-man backfield. Throughout the season, free agents like DJ Swearinger were asked to come in and start in place of injured players like Karl Joseph or Johnathan Abram, which is not a recipe for success.

This year, the Raiders have more depth in the secondary and at linebacker like Damarious Randall and Cory Littleton, who have put up impressive interception numbers in the past, so 15 is a realistic mark to aim for. Even the Raiders awful defense in 2018 that barely mustered 13 sacks had 14 interceptions.

Speaking of sacks, the team was able to record 32 on just 64 quarterback hits, lowest in the league by a fair margin. That sack rate is not sustainable but it shows that for the best pass rushing teams, a quarterback hit can be just as effective as sack in terms of impact.

The Raiders know they could not go in to 2020 relying on just Maxx Crosby to generate pressure so they went out and got two under the radar free agents in Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins who excel at that. Collins has 14.5 sacks and 40 quarterback hits in 61 games and Nassib has 18 sacks and 40 QB hits in 59 games but just 32 starts.

Those two additions along with an expected increase in production from Mo Hurst in his third season and Clelin Ferrell in his second could quite easily add up to 40 sacks for the Raiders. Not to mention Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski who have 3 seasons between them with 3 or more sacks. Look for the pass rush to be a strength of the Raiders defense in 2020.

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3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders defense in 2020

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Raiders S Erik Harris (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Raiders have a top 10 defense in 2020

With all of these expected Pro Bowlers and leaps in key statistics like interceptions and sacks, there should be a major improvement in the team's defensive ranking as well. In 2019 the team finished 24th in overall defense for reasons we have discussed at length like injury and suspension to key players.

So what has changed so dramatically in the offseason that could justify such a jump? The simple answers are talent and depth. The Raiders improved exponentially at the linebacker position especially from a coverage perspective by spending big and have improved at nearly every defensive back position.

They also went out and tried to ensure they could be at least two deep at every position to help prevent the massive dropoff that they experience in 2019 when starters went down. The depth will make a major impact later in the season when turnover is to be expected.

Next: 3 bold predictions for the Las Vegas Raiders offense in 2020

The last time the franchise had a top-10 defense was in 2002 when they made a trip to the Super Bowl as the unit that featured Hall of Famers like Rod Woodson and Charles Woodson and a host of veteran stalwarts like Bill Romanowski and Sam Adams. The 2020 unit will be substantially younger but can quickly prove they have the talent to finish top-10 in the league on defense.