This offseason’s free-agent class was loaded with excellent edge rushers, for a little while anyway. Franchise tags took the best off the market, greatly decreasing supply to feed an insatiable hunger for quality pass rushers.
That’s how Trey Flowers’ value got inflated to $90 million, with $56 million guaranteed. The Raiders weren’t matching those funds, or lesser sums to imperfect fits.
That left the Raiders to continue a classic position-group rebuild through the NFL draft. The Raiders took three defensive ends a year after taking two interior linemen and an edge rusher, going young at an important position largely devoid of established talent.
These reconstruction methods take time, and the Raiders probably have another offseason left before the defensive line intimidates as planned. That’s no direct knock on passer rushers already on the roster. This team is in the middle of a multi-year roster rebuild, with a big plans for 2020 and beyond in Las Vegas.
In short: The defensive line remains a work in progress. Set expectations appropriately.
This isn’t a unit going from the NFL’s worst in sacks to anywhere near first. Even the middle of the pack might be a stretch. But the Raiders have to do better than last year’s 13-sack total, without much pressure in general. Ultimately, they will.
They would need 40 to be in the top half, and it might be tough to make such a huge leap.
It’s possible if the interior gets strong push, second-year man Arden Key finishes golden opportunities he too-often missed last year and No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell produces here like he did at the college level.
The Clemson product had 27 sacks over his last three seasons with the Tigers, and should prove pro ready while playing heavy snaps as an NFL rookie. Expecting a Herculean effort in his first season might be a bit much as he continues to develop as a pass rusher, but Ferrell can get after the quarterback right now.
Rookies don't get home as often as vets, but his presence should help the overall product.
Fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby’s a wild card off the edge, and could be impactful if he earns a role as a situational pass rusher. Seventh-rounder Quinton Bell's a project. Benson Mayowa’s the only veteran with juice off the edge, though his spot in the rotation will shake out over the summer as coaches compare his efficiency to younger players.
Key might play less but do more than his rookie year, when he was asked to play extensively following the Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin departures. He could split time with veteran run defender Josh Mauro, if both players shake out well during training camp.
Good push could come from the interior, with Maurice Hurst looking to build off a solid rookie year and Johnathan Hankins entering his second year in the system. P.J. Hall’s somewhat of an unknown, but needs a strong camp to earn a rotation spot. His second-round draft status won’t help him there.
This defensive line will be tested each day in training camp by a standout offensive line, and could take some lumps once pads come on. Development is key for a young group led by position coach Brenston Buckner, who should be given time to build this line into something better.