Former Raiders free-agent target signs in NFC West


Former Raiders free-agent target signs in NFC West

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Decades ago, the Los Angeles Rams’ defense was fronted by the Fearsome Foursome.

With Ndamukong Suh playing alongside Aaron Donald for the Rams this fall, NFL offenses are about to experience a terrifying twosome.

Suh agreed to a one-year contract with Los Angeles on Monday, joining three-time All-Pro Donald in a remarkable defensive line pairing.

Suh was released by the Dolphins this month after three seasons in Miami. He examined several free-agent opportunities before choosing the defending NFC West champion Rams, who have revamped their already solid defense with several impressive offseason additions.

Suh’s deal in Los Angeles is worth $14 million, according to the NFL Network and ESPN.

Suh was a five-time Pro Bowl selection during his eight-year career with Detroit and Miami. Despite a history of physical play on the edge of legality and sportsmanship, he is considered one of the NFL’s most impressive defensive linemen, with 51 1/2 career sacks and excellent run-stopping ability. He also has never missed a game due to injury.

With Suh and Donald playing side by side, the Rams will have a superb foundation for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme. Suh, who likely will play nose tackle, and steady veteran Michael Brockers are expected to start up front alongside Donald, the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

The 31-year-old Suh has never played in a 3-4 alignment during his NFL career, but Phillips specializes in finding ways for outstanding players to shine. He is also much less likely to face double teams as a pass rusher while lining up with Donald in a partnership that will stretch most opponents’ blocking abilities to the limit.

Suh visited New Orleans and Tennessee during his free agency tour, and he was scheduled to visit Oakland before canceling last week. He attracted serious interest from the New York Jets, but they publicly rescinded their contract offer Sunday.

Instead, the Rams won over Suh last week after a visit to their training complex and a dinner in Malibu with a front-office group including coach Sean McVay and owner Stan Kroenke.

Suh likely could have made more money with the Titans or Jets, but the Rams are widely considered a team on the rise — and Suh has never won a playoff game despite strong individual performances in each of his three postseason appearances.

With Suh’s arrival on a lucrative one-year deal, the Rams have signaled their determination to compete for the Super Bowl immediately.

Los Angeles has revamped its defense with proven talent in an effort to raise its performance to the level of McVay’s offense, which led the NFL with 478 points last season in a stunning worst-to-first transformation.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles added cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, who have been selected for a combined seven Pro Bowls, while retaining promising safety Lamarcus Joyner and slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman.

Suh is an Oregon native who starred at Nebraska before joining the Lions as the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. He became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history at the time of his six-year, $114 million free-agent deal with the Dolphins.

Suh has repeatedly drawn the ire of opponents and officials with overaggressive play and dirty hits. He has paid numerous fines, yet his only NFL suspension was a two-game ban in 2011 during his second season for stomping on Packers lineman Evan Smith.

Talib and Peters also have been involved in their own scuffles with opponents or their own teammates and coaches. McVay’s first Rams team had no significant issues in the locker room, with the young head coach and his veteran defensive coordinator presiding over a roster with solid chemistry.

Raiders (still) looking for interior pass rusher

Raiders (still) looking for interior pass rusher

The Raiders need an interior pass rusher. Pretty bad, in fact.

Head coach Jon Gruden expressed that fact recently, the need is nothing new. General manager Reggie McKenzie has attempted to remedy the situation with second-round picks in consecutive drafts, but Mario Edwards Jr. has been inconsistent and Jihad Ward has been ineffective.

The Raiders want to pair an intimidating interior presence with edge rusher Khalil Mack, to take focus away from the team’s best defender. Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme is particularly effective with strength inside, especially a havoc-creating three-technique.

He had Geno Atkins there under Guenther in Cincinnati, but talents like that aren’t easily cloned.

They may not be readily available when the Raiders select at No. 10 overall. Washington’s Vita Vea is the draft’s best interior defensive lineman (more on him later), though the Raiders don’t have to address such a big need with the top pick.

Count respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock among those who believe the Raiders could wait to address this position.

"If you want to get a sub rusher, it doesn't have to be in the first round,” Mayock said in a conference call. “They've got (selections No. 41 and No. 75). You can drop down a little bit. It's not a great interior defensive line class, but there are some different guys throughout it.”

Mayock understands the steady links to Vea, a Milpitas product, but doesn’t believe the Raiders have to select him 10th.

“People want to place him there,” Mayock said. “The way I look at the Raiders, again, is at 10, they can get a significant player at 10, and it doesn't have to be an interior sub rusher or an interior rusher. They signed Tank Carradine, who's going to be on outside guy, or Armani Bryant, who can be an inside-outside guy. I think they've got to get Vanderdoes going a little bit, but there's no doubt that, again, I think they can take a safety, they can take a corner.”

There’s some talent available early and later on, as Mayock suggests. Let’s take a look at some options at this key position.

Vita Vea, Washington
-- The former Husky has surprising athleticism for someone weighing 347 pounds. He should be a good run defender right away, and has more pass-rush ability than people assume. He isn’t elite in that area, but is versatile enough to play several techniques across the line. Analysts say his college tape showed some inconsistent effort. He doesn’t perfectly fill a need, but has the type of disruptive talent the Raiders need on the inside.
Projected round (per 1

Maurice Hurst, Michigan
-- There’s little doubt Hurst is this draft’s best interior pass rusher. A heart condition discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine has made him a wild card. He was cleared to participate in his pro day, and wasn’t asked to submit to a combine re-check. Then came reports about him being removed from consideration by some teams, and a possible fall to Day 3 of this draft. That could be a smoke screen. We may never know its validity. That said: it takes but one team to believe in his prolonged health to go for him early. He could be a Raiders target in the second round if he lasts that long.
Projected rounds: 1-3 (or 4)

Taven Bryan, Florida
Scouts believe Bryan’s best football lies ahead. He doesn’t have great stats, but Bryan’s a freak athlete which the burst and ability to fit well in the Raiders’ one-gap scheme. He’s a tick behind Hurst in terms of raw pass-rush skills, but finds ways to penetrate the pocket. Bryan is considered a first-round talent, and would have to be a trade-down candidate to end up in Silver and Black.
Projected round (per 1

Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
-- The small-school talent has great size (6-4, 315), athleticism and pass-rush ability, though he’s considered a raw prospect that needs some development time. Analysts say he’s coachable and could be a productive player if he combines improved technique with his physical tools. He wants to be good, and could prove a worthy project for this new coaching staff.
Projected rounds: 2-3

P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State
-- Another small school guy with tremendous college production. Mayock mentioned him when offering Raiders possibilities at defensive tackle, and seems to have the physical talent to be a good pass rusher. He stands 6-1, 310 and played nose tackle in college, but created havoc inside against his level of competition. He’s athletic, with power and quickness, though it’s uncertain how he’ll fare against NFL competition. He showed well at the Shrine Game, which helped increase his profile.
Projected rounds (per 3-4

R.J. McIntosh, Miami
Here’s another project for the Raiders staff. This is a talented athlete, who could be a solid pass rusher. Analysts say he needs to improve his hand technique, but has potential in a one-gap scheme like the Raiders employ. He could play outside in a base defense and bounce inside. He’ll take some time to develop, and could be available later in the draft.
Projected rounds (per 3-5

Raiders must 'hit some home runs' in NFL Draft, get more from previous classes

Raiders must 'hit some home runs' in NFL Draft, get more from previous classes

Reggie McKenzie has made some excellent draft picks. The Raiders general manager built a young foundation through amateur selection, including prominent players at vital positions.

Franchise quarterback Derek Carr, elite edge rusher Khalil Mack, stout guard Gabe Jackson and dynamic receiver Amari Cooper have all heard their name called on draft day.

One problem: Those guys have been given contract extensions or will get one soon.

In other words, it’s been a while since McKenzie struck gold.

The 2014 draft class is his signature, an elite collection among the NFL’s best over the last decade. Then he nabbed Cooper in 2015. And not much since then.

2016 first-round Karl Joseph is a consistent starter, and that’s the nicest thing you can say about anyone drafted recently.

Only three members of the 2015 class remain on the roster. The 2016 group includes defensive lineman Jihad Ward, edge rusher Shilique Calhoun and quarterback Connor Cook, taken in round 2-4, respectively, who haven’t made significant contributions.

Last year’s crop was decimated by injury, with the top three draft picks all undergoing major surgery their rookie year.

It didn’t take new head coach Jon Gruden long to acknowledge that. He said at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Raiders need more from their last three draft classes, singling Cooper out as that group’s only impact player.

Building depth and top quality through the draft is vital on a Raiders squad with so much money going to Carr right now and Mack in the near future. They can’t afford to swing and miss so often.

The Raiders need to hit a home run in this week’s 2018 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday evening. They must also mine more from guys already here. The jury’s still out on these young players, but they must show better posthaste.

“I’m not closing the book on last year’s draft of two years ago draft,” Gruden said Tuesday. “Our job is to develop players. That’s what coaches are here to do. We’re not here to draft people and sign the contracts and do all that stuff necessarily. We’re here to develop the players that are in the building. We need to do a better job getting more out of those three classes.

“At the same time, we have to hit some home runs in this draft. We have to get some players that can come in and help us.”

The Raiders have 11 selections, starting with the No. 10 overall pick. They have plenty of roster needs and must start filling them now.

Insufficient recent returns, however, won’t add urgency to this year’s proceedings. Each year is independent, with an opportunity to find impact players.

“What we want to do is just bring in some good players, really good football players,” McKenzie said last week. “We’re not going to beat up on some of these guys who physically were not able to get out there and play. Hopefully some of these guys from the past drafts, we can get them out there, keep them healthy and see what they can do. Hopefully this is the year. Even the guys we draft this year, we have no idea if they can make it through OTAs or training camp and preseason healthy. You just hope and pray they can be there for us and see what they can do during the season. We’re hopeful that we can stay healthy and let the guys play.”