How the 2023 Raiders’ Defense Was Built and What It Means for 2024

Was it our draft picks and undrafted free agent choices that carried the load? Or was it our free agent signings and trade prospects that contributed more? Soon we will see what made our defense go: homegrown talent or acquisitions.
Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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What the Stats Tell Us

Tackling Stats

Tackling stats are calculated through a variety of means, both on defense and special teams. To counter the often-confusing nature of combined tackles or assisted tackles, I elected to focus on Solo Tackles as my first category. Oftentimes it is the linebackers who dominate this statistic, and LB Robert Spillane, a free agent signing, was our team leader with 82 tackles. However, homegrown talent ended up compiling 56% of the solo tackles made last year compared to 44% made by acquisitions, even though Spillane outperformed the next best by nearly 20 tackles. This is because Raiders draft picks Divine Deablo (65), Tre’von Moehrig (65), Nate Hobbs (59) and Maxx Crosby (55) rounded out the top 5 leading tacklers, and Amik Robertson and Malcolm Koonce, both draft picks, were some of the team’s highest tacklers as well. Only Marcus Epps joined Spillane on the list of acquisitions to make the top 8. So many players, mostly acquired players, combined to make up the rest of the team’s tackles, but this category was dominated by the players at the top of the board, which were players that the Raiders selected on draft day. 7 of these 8 return, with Amik Robertson being the only departure. 

Tackles for Loss are a useful stat to consider because while sacking the quarterback is incredibly beneficial, any loss of yardage for the opposition is a success. When it came to the 82 tackles for loss that the entire team produced, 48 (58.5%) of them were at the hands of a homegrown player while only 34 came from acquired players. The leaders in this category were both Raiders draft picks: Maxx Crosby with 23 and Malcolm Koonce with 9. Adam Butler and Robert Spillane, both free agent signings, recorded 8 and 7 respectively, and Nate Hobbs had 6 to round out the top 5. Luckily, no matter what the breakdown is, all 5 of these players will return next season and the signing of Christian Wilkins will bolster the total numbers even if they throw a wrench into the percentages from last season.

When it comes to Sacks, everyone knows that Maxx Crosby carried the heavy lifting with 14.5 sacks in 2023. However, it was not just he who contributed to the squad's pass-rush prowess; homegrown players recorded 32 (69.6%) of the team's sacks last season, whereas acquisitions brought down the opposing QB 14 (30.4%) times. Crosby led the team by a large margin, and behind him was former 3rd-round pick Malcolm Koonce with 8 sacks. Adam Butler, former Patriot, contributed 5 while Spillane and rookie first-round pick Tyree Wilson added 3.5 each. Luckily for this team, all 5 of these players are back on the field for the Raiders next season, and the defensive line room added Christian Wilkins. I just hope the total sack number is higher than 46. Ideally, Tyree makes a huge jump in year 2 similar to Khalil Mack, and this group is the best in the league because they are definitely capable. 

Turnover Stats

While Pass Deflections are not “turnovers” per se, they paint a good picture of how active players are on the ball when they are targeted, or how aware a defensive lineman is of the quarterback when they release the ball. There are a multitude of ways to evaluate a defensive player's value in coverage, but this article is about production, so here are the numbers. Of the 56 deflections produced last season, 30 (53.6%) of them came from homegrown talent, with the top 3 being Tre’von Moehrig, Nate Hobbs, and Amik Robertson. The next 6 in succession were all free agent signings: Marcus Peters with 5, and Butler, Spillane, John Jenkins, and Jack Jones with 4, and Marcus Epps with 3. Jakorian Bennett, for his rookie struggles, recorded 3 pass breakups as well. Unfortunately, Amik Robertson left this offseason, but it is promising that Jack Jones had as many deflections as he did in only 7 games. Marcus Peters’ departure provides more benefit than his stats would indicate in this metric as well, and ideally, a veteran corner like Adoree Jackson or Xavien Howard can enter the fold and make an impact.  

Okay, now for some actual turnover stats. When it came to Interceptions last season, the team collected 13 total, with 53.8% of them coming from former draft picks or UDFAs. The 7 interceptions from homegrown talent were the result of 3 Tre’von Moehrig interceptions, 2 from Amik Robertson, and 1 a piece from both Nate Hobbs and Isaiah Pola-Mao. 3 of these 4 players return next season, and the secondary was bolstered through the draft so this percentage could rise. However, Robert Spillane added 3 picks of his own last season, and Jack Jones added 2 in only 7 games. With Jones’ emergence, and the potential addition of a veteran free agent corner, I could see the acquired players taking the reins in total interceptions next season. 

The Raiders had 14 Forced Fumbles last season, and 11 (78.6%) of them came from homegrown talent. All 3 players to force multiple fumbles in 2023 (Koonce, Crosby, and Luke Masterson) were players drafted by the team and will be on this year's roster. Also good for Las Vegas is that only a single player (Amik Robertson) who forced a fumble last year will not be returning to the squad. 

Fumble Recoveries are like interceptions in the same way that forced fumbles are like pass deflections. A deflection or forced fumble is great, but unless the Raiders end up getting the ball, it ends up being all for not. Of the 14 fumbles forced last season, the Raiders recovered 9 of them, with 4 (44.4%) being scooped up by homegrown players whereas 5 (55.6%) were recovered by acquired players. No one player recovered more than one fumble, but once again, a majority of those players return. Obviously, if the defense could create more than one turnover a game, this unit would be perhaps the best in the NFL. But players are going to have to step up both in terms of making those plays on the ball and finishing those plays by actually taking the football from opposing teams. 

Points Contributions

Factoring in Defensive Touchdowns can be a bit dicey because it will obviously be a small sample size, but it is perhaps one of the most important defensive metrics. Not only is a player causing a turnover but having the wherewithal to take it to the house is such a huge benefit, especially when our offense was as weak as it was last year. The team scored 5 defensive touchdowns in 2023, and interestingly enough, all 5 of them were scored by acquired talent. Jack Jones scored twice in only 7 games, and Marcus Peters, John Jenkins, and Bilal Nichols each added one. Peters and Nichols both left this offseason, but it is hard not to be excited about what Jack Jones can do in a full season. 

It is important to understand that when it comes to measuring Total Points, the numbers get a bit funky as well. Quarterbacks are not given credit for passing touchdowns, only rushing, so a passing TD from Aidan O’Connell to Davante Adams rewards 6 points to Adams and 0 to O’Connell. As a result, kickers dominate this statistic on nearly every team, and the Raiders are no different. Daniel Carlson scored 110 points for Las Vegas last year, which was 33.1% of the team’s total output. Part of this is due to his opportunity to kick extra points, but it also speaks to the sheer volume of field goals this team settled for in 2023. All told, free agent signees accounted for 77.5% of the scoring whereas homegrown players only managed 22.5%. Jakobi Meyers scored 10 touchdowns for the team and Adams contributed 8, so the top 3 in this category were all acquired through free agency or trade. Josh Jacobs was next in line with 6 touchdowns, and Michael Mayer also added 2 touchdowns and a 2-point conversion, but all in all, most of the touchdowns were scored by acquired players, not draft picks. The exclusion of O’Connell in this statistic is significant, but I think this category’s analysis speaks more to our offense's inability to create touchdowns at an effective rate. Luckily, our top 3 scorers from last year are all returning, but I would love to see Carlson’s usage rate drop dramatically. While our defense was also predominantly run by homegrown talent, randomly, all of the defensive touchdowns were scored by free agent acquisitions. I understand that people may view this as the most important statistic because the team who scores more, wins! But there are many pieces to the puzzle that make this team go, and every statistic measured contributes in a different but also important way. A lineman like Kolton Miller will likely never score a touchdown for the Raiders, but that does not undermine his impact.