Analyzing the Raiders’ advantages in the AFC West
All-Pro edge-rushing duo
The AFC West is home to many above-average pass rushers. Kansas City has All-Pro Chris Jones and added the talented George Karlaftis in this year’s draft. The Broncos paired Bradley Chubb with Randy Gregory this off-season, and the Raiders’ division rivals in Los Angeles brought Khalil Mack back into the division to be Joey Bosa’s counterpart.
Even considering all of this, none of the above-mentioned teams have a pair of All-Pro pass rushers.
Chandler Jones earned first-team All-Pro honors in both 2017 and 2019, which were two seasons he had double-digit sacks in, out of the six years in a row he’s recorded 10+ sacks (Minus ’20, where Jones played in only five contests). His last meaningful season after his ’19 All-Pro season, being 2021, was a 10.5 sack year with 6 forced fumbles.
Maxx Crosby earned his [second-team] All-Pro nominee last season, where he led the NFL in pressures, per PFF. The breakout defensive end finished his year with 8 sacks and 7 pass breakups, earning the highest grade PFF gave out for edge rushers.
Had Crosby been able to finish on more of his pressures, the chances a few Defensive Player of the Year votes come his way are very real – Albeit [TJ] Watt’s season was so remarkable, it’s hard to imagine any other player taking home the award last season. Still, Crosby was able to record his first All-Pro accolade, which both he and Raider Nation hope is the first of many.
We have to understand that Crosby and Jones are not simply two great players who find themselves on the same team; They are players who already shared a strong bond with each other, as well as competitors who will push their counterparts by simply giving it their all on the field.
The first part of the above sentiment is crucial here. When Chandler Jones was a free agent, his former positions coach in New England, Patrick Graham, had already been hired as the Raiders defensive coordinator. Similarly, the former offensive coordinator of the Patriots, Josh McDaniels, who was trained by coach Belichick to work with the team’s defense as well, had been Las Vegas’ head coach for some time.
Even with those critical connections, Jones credits Crosby as a key reason he was drawn to the Silver and Black.
“I’d text him, ‘Hey, that was a good move. How’d you, what did you do there? How’d you set up that spin?'”, Jones said when asked about his pre-established friendship with Crosby.
Last season, with Yannick Ngakoue opposite Crosby, we saw how the two pushed each other to consistently be great through the season, simply by letting their play fire up their counterpart. As Crosby earned his All-Pro honor, Ngakoue was also able to have himself a season. He led the Raiders in sacks, tallying 10, and was named an alternate to the ’21 Pro Bowl.
Chandler Jones is cut from that same cloth of competitiveness.
While Ngakoue found himself on a new team this off-season, Las Vegas was able to snag a perennial double-digit sack machine in Jones – A player who may very well be the second-best at his craft from the edge leaguewide, behind the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt.
With the running game and All-Pro duo on the edges out of the way, let’s get into that third advantage the Raiders have in the AFC West.