The Raiders franchise drafted Arden Key to be a playmaker on the edge, and it looks like Malcolm Koonce could be the player Key was supposed to be.
On April 15, 2021, the Las Vegas Raiders parted ways with third-year edge rusher, Arden Key who in his tenure with the team, recorded only three sacks after being drafted in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. Key, who often had no trouble getting near the quarterback, struggled often at completing the play and found himself out of position more times than not including two critical plays in back-to-back seasons that changed the playoff implications of the organization.
Key, who was released by the Raiders, has been very vocal about his time in the Silver and Black, most notably his recent comments where in a press conference he stated that “He wasn’t surprised he was cut.” and it was “the best thing that could have happened.”
Key had said he wanted out, all while failing to take accountability for the fact that he often struggled in the same broken system that many other edge rushers on the defense seemed to make the best of.
Raiders usher in new era in the pass rush
When the Raiders moved on from Key, it ushered in a new era with the Raiders defense. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley made an emphasis on rebuilding the defensive line, and began with signing free agent Yannick Ngakoue. As the Raiders focused on bolstering the defense through key free-agent signings, they also pivoted towards speed and strength through the draft and drafted Malcolm Koonce in the third round.
Koonce, who led the Mid American Conference in sacks in 2019 was brought in to help with the defensive end rotation. At 6-foot-2 and 249 lbs, Koonce fares physically similar to another University of Buffalo and Raiders alum, Khalil Mack, and has the physical attributes and work ethic to earn significant game reps during the regular season.
The Las Vegas Raiders added talent to the defensive side of the ball, but was it enough for first-year defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Koonce has been heavily involved in the second and third-team defensive rotations and has been holding his own while recording five solo tackles and one quarterback hit in his two preseason contests. As Koonce continues to learn and grow in Gus Bradley’s defense, it is apparent that Koonce can become the player that Arden Key was drafted to be: a pass rusher who can make plays when his number is called.