Raiders' broken pass rush has potential, but could take time to fix

Raiders' broken pass rush has potential, but could take time to fix

A great pass rusher's hard to find. Even consistently good ones are rare. 

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made those true and salient points last season and got ridiculed for saying so shortly after trading Khalil Mack. 

Let's ignore the timing and context for a second and agree that star edge rushers don’t come around often despite all the top draft capital spent on them, while pointing out a glaring omission.

Everyone forgets the plural. 

Good pass rushers -- with an "s" -- are hard to find.

Teams need more than one to be impactful. The Raiders could use a fleet, like the Eagles now or the Seahawks a few years back. Even Mack couldn’t do it alone, or with Bruce Irvin as a tag-team partner. The Raiders were No. 24 in total sacks in 2017 and dead last during the 2016 playoff run, when Mack was the Defensive Player of the Year.

This isn’t a re-litigation of the Mack trade, but instead a discussion on the time required to fix a broken pass rush. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Mack turned the Bears into a juggernaut, but he was the last card required for a royal flush. The 49ers have the makings of pressure cooker, but it took four first-round draft picks – that includes the Solomon Thomas misstep (to this point) -- and a major trade to form.

It’s therefore unfair to expect No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell and fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby to right the ship right away – seventh-round pick Quenton Bell’s a major project -- even if second-year pros Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall kick it up a notch. The return to respectability could be long, especially reaching coordinator Paul Guenther’s preference to use a four-man rush.

The Raiders are happy with the prospects taken from this draft, believing dividends will come from these edge players.

“Let’s face it, we needed some defensive ends,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “You guys have been harping on that since I got here. We didn’t think that free agency was going to be the answer for that. I thought we did a really nice job here over the weekend to the extent that we couldn’t even sign any (undrafted) free agent defensive ends because they saw we drafted three. They’re all staying away from us.

"What we got, of course we got [Clelin] Ferrell - length, motor. We got [Maxx] Crosby - length, motor. Then we get this guy from Prairie View, Quinton Bell - length, motor, 4.40 speed. So we feel like for sure that’s a position we addressed and we’re excited about.”

Potential is surely there. Production might not be stellar, even if Ferrell hits the ground running. A quick start’s certainly possible considering his extensive pass-rush rolodex, motor and technical savvy, but rookies don’t typically take off without proper NFL experience.

Let’s not forget Mack only had four sacks as a rookie, even in a quality first year of run defense and quarterback pressure. Double-digit sack totals are relatively rare. Only seven rookies have reached 10 sacks in the last 10 years. Everyone in the crew save maybe one is a name you know, including Von Miller, Joey Bosa, Aldon Smith, and Bradley Chubb.

Greg Townsend and Anthony Smith have the team rookie record with 10.5, a first-year total that hasn’t been hit since 1991.

The Raiders believe Ferrell will be able to make an instant contribution, but he needs help inside from Hurst and Hall and threats off the opposite edge from Key, who had once sack, but Guenther believes he could’ve had more with better finishing.

There are few guarantees up front, something an established veteran could’ve provided had they not been so cost prohibitive on the open market.

[RELATED: Vegas gives Raiders very low chance to win Super Bowl]

The Raiders didn’t want to pay Mack top dollar and got killed for it – including at this web address -- though the Chiefs did the same with Dee Ford and the Seahawks with Frank Clark before those players got less than Mack’s record-setting total.

Time will tell if the foundation for steady quarterback pressure has been laid here after investing heavily in young pass rushers. More will probably come next year even if some potential turns kinetic, as the Raiders continue rebuilding their roster as Mayock and Gruden see fit.

2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas will include stage on Fountains of Bellagio

2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas will include stage on Fountains of Bellagio

The 2020 NFL Draft is off to a great start. The three-day event starting April 23 will be held in Las Vegas this year, and it can't get any more ... well, Vegas.

This isn't an understatement. Not even close. 

When players arrive to the draft, they in essence will do so on water. The NFL Draft Red Carpet will take place on the water of the Fountains of Bellagio. Players will be transported to the stage by boat. The main stage for the draft will be held next to Caesars Forum. 

To no surprise, the Raiders celebrated Tuesday's news(?) as the Silver and Black is moving to Vegas later this year. 

“The Raiders are thrilled to join the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the resort corridor, and the local community in welcoming fans to Las Vegas for the 2020 NFL Draft,” Raiders president Marc Badain said in a press release. “Just as the NFL journey begins on draft weekend for many young players, the Silver and Black’s journey in the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World is also just beginning.

"There is no better place to showcase this special event than on the famous Las Vegas Boulevard, and fans will be treated to a truly unique experience in an iconic location.”

Look, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is oblivious on plenty of things, but has he never seen The Office? Someone is bound to pull a Michael Scott. 

[RELATED: NFL mock draft: 49ers, Raiders picks with Super Bowl set]

If anyone will pull a Jim Halpert, it's Goodell. 

The NFL is embracing Las Vegas, so hey, go all the way in. Here's to nothing going wrong in a place nicknamed Sin City.

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

NFL Draft 2020: Fifteen Prospects for Raiders to watch at Senior Bowl

Last year, Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and the Raiders' coaching staff got a close look at a number of prospects who eventually would don silver and black while coaching at the Reese's Senior Bowl.

The Raiders won't be coaching this year, with their 7-9 record keeping them from the not-so-prestigious honor that is given to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Detroit Lions this season.

After hitting a home run with the 2019 draft class, Gruden and Mayock are looking to stack classes and fill some of their gaping holes via the 2020 NFL Draft. 

While they won't be coaching in Mobile, Ala., this week, the Raiders still will be hyper-focused on the talent at the Senior Bowl, of which there is a lot that could help the Raiders next season.

Yes, probable high draft picks Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon), Terrell Lewis (EDGE/LB, Alabama), Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU) and Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina) all will be present at the Senior Bowl. And yes, all could intrigue the Raiders. But since the smart money is on Gruden selecting a wide receiver and a linebacker in the first round, we will spend this time focusing on some likely Day 2 and Day 3 guys.

Wide receivers

The Raiders need to select multiple receivers in the 2020 draft. I expect they'll grab either Clemson's Tee Higgins or Alabama's Henry Ruggs in Round 1 (CeeDee Lamb would be nice, but I don't expect he'll be available.) One receiver won't do it, though, and the Senior Bowl has a number of veteran pass-catchers who figure to be available later in the draft.

Michael Pittman Jr., USC: At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Pittman is a big-body receiver with bear paws for hands. He's a physical receiver and uses that to his advantage. Pittman has got a good catch radius and is a sufficient route-runner, but he lacks the ability to separate at the top of the route and isn't a dynamic catch-and-run guy. He'd be a solid Day 2 grab.

Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: He'll likely start to shoot up draft boards (we have him mocked to the 49ers with the last pick in the first round), but Aiyuk brings all the tools you want in a wide receiver. He has good hands with great after-the-catch ability. Likely won't be there, but he's one to watch.

Chase Claypool, Notre Dame: As my colleague Dalton Johnson noted, Claypool is a touchdown machine. The 6-foot-4, 229-pound athletic marvel has great hands, is an efficient route-runner and is great in contested catch situations. Drafting him would give the Raiders a jump-ball threat if they choose to move on from Tyrell Williams. 

Jauan Jennings, Tennessee: At 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, Jennings has prototypical NFL size. He led the Volunteers with 57 catches for 942 yards and nine scores. Questions about his character likely will make him slide, but a good showing in Mobile will help his case. 

Collin Johnson, Texas: Size, size, size. Johnson is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and a lethal red-zone threat. Great at attacking the ball at the high point while maintaining control of his body.

K.J. Hill, Ohio State: Hill doesn't have the breakaway speed you'd like, but he's solid sub package wide receiver with great hands and polished route-running ability. Definitely, someone for the Raiders to watch.

Edge rushers

Marlon Davidson, Auburn: A Day 2 pick with a specific skill set, Davidson has impressive strength and uses his hands well which allows him to win at the point of attack. Great at keeping runs inside. Not a game-changing rusher, but someone to watch.

Jabari Zuniga, Florida: Zuniga is a versatile edge defender who has a powerful first step and strong hands that have destroyed tackles at the collegiate level. His lateral quickness and wingspan make him a good run defender as well.

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State: Willekes has an insanely high motor and is ultra-competitive. He's the type of player Gruden would love to add to the DL rotation. He is a good run defender and has a solid array of pass-rush moves. Needs to get stronger, but has a high-floor.

Bradlee Anae, Utah: Anae is quick and has good hands. He's a versatile guy who can rush the passer from an up or down position.


K'Von Wallace, Clemson: Another Clemson guy? Why not? The Raiders need another safety alongside Johnathan Abram, and Wallace comes from the winning-factory in Death Valley. Wallace is a high-IQ player who played all over the secondary at Clemson. He's most successful as a roamer. At 5-foot-11 his lack of size could be an issue covering downfield at the NFL level, but I wouldn't be shocked to see the Raiders go here.


Malik Harrison, Ohio State: The Raiders need an answer at middle linebacker and Harrison might be the guy. He's a physical thumper in the run game. Coverage ability needs some work, but Harrison should intrigue Mayock and Gruden.

[RELATED: Raiders should follow draft blueprint, raid LSU-Clemson]

Defensive tackle

Leki Fotu, Utah: A late Day 2/early Day 3 guy, Fotu is perfect for a team that needs to create more pressure up the middle. He's an explosive player with great hands. At the moment. he's a rotational piece but could become a starter in time.

Davon Hamilton, Ohio State: At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, Hamilton is a mountain of a man. He's a smart player who was productive even when facing constant double teams at Ohio State. To beef up the defensive line, the Raiders should look at Hamilton.


Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia: The Raiders almost certainly won't move on from Daniel Carlson, but if they do, Blankenship could be an option in the late rounds or as an undrafted rookie. He has a big leg and was very reliable during his time at Georgia.