Jon Gruden and the Raiders enter the offseason needing to fix a defense that was once again one of the worst in football this past season.
The Raiders fired Paul Guenther toward the end of the season and hired Gus Bradley to replace him on Tuesday. Bradley's 4-3 Cover 3 scheme is more simplistic than Guenther's, but it also relies on a strong front four being able to pressure the quarterback.
That's an issue for a Raiders team that ranked 30th in sacks per game (1.3) and sack percentage (3.49). The Raiders need to find productive edge rushers and dominant interior defensive linemen or Bradley's scheme isn't going to improve their defense.
If Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock were watching Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship Game, and I'm sure they were, they no doubt saw a player who could fill one of the biggest holes on their defense: Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Barmore, a 6-foot-5, 311-pound junior, was the most dominant player on the defensive side of the ball in Alabama's 52-24 beat down of No. 3 Ohio State. Barmore notched five tackles (two for loss) and one sack in the win en route to winning Defensive Player of the Game honors.
But one four-play sequence, in particular, should have shown the Raiders all they need to see from the Alabama defensive tackle.
On Ohio State's opening series of the second quarter, Barmore took over on all four plays showing why he's considered IDL1 in the 2021 class. On first down, Barmore shed a blocker and ripped down Master Teague for a 3-yard loss. He got quick pressure on Justin Fields on second down to force and incompletion and got a hand on a third-down pass that was completed to Garrett Wilson. On fourth-and-1 from the Ohio State 45-yard line, Barmore burst through the line again and pulled Teague down to force a turnover on downs. Alabama scored on the ensuing possession and that was all she wrote for the Buckeyes.
Here's the second-down pressure.
And the fourth-down stop.
This came after Barmore put up a dominant performance in the Rose Bowl against a Notre Dame offensive line with a host of NFL prospects. In that game, Barmore pressured quarterback Ian Book on 18.4 percent of his dropbacks.
The Raiders' interior defensive line has been an issue for a while. This past season, the Raiders had only one IDL rank inside PFF's top 50. That was Maurice Hurst, who recorded a pass-rush grade of 78.5 and ranked 19th overall. Jonathan Hankins was next on the list at No. 70.
Gruden undoubtedly has to find an answer at edge rusher. But the 2021 draft class doesn't have the top-end EDGE talent that past drafts have. Miami's Gregory Rousseau is seen as the best of the bunch, but he's only had one season of production. Michigan's Kwity Paye should shoot up boards during the NFL Scouting Combine, but it's debatable if he will be able to have an immediate impact.
If Barmore declares for the draft, and after his playoff performance that seems likely, he should be atop the Raiders' draft board. The redshirt sophomore combines raw power with active, physical hands to create a good vertical pass rush. This past season, Hurts, Hankins and Maliek Collins combined for 1.5 sacks. That's not going to get it done and the inability to pressure the quarterback with the front four will hamper the Raiders in Bradley's new system.
Barmore has the look of a franchise defensive tackle. The Raiders will do their homework on Rousseau, Paye and Texas' Joseph Addai. Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah should also be on their list along with Oregon hybrid defensive back Jevon Holland.
But Barmore would check a massive box for Gruden and Bradley. If the Raiders can bring a top-tier edge rusher and another interior defensive lineman in free agency to pair with Barmore and the edge rotation of Clelin Ferrell, Carl Nassib and Maxx Crosby, then Bradley's scheme should have a better chance at succeeding.
The Raiders' pass rush has been non-existent since the Khalil Mack trade. Brining in Barmore can be the start of the solution to the Raiders' biggest problem.