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Raiders ‘really miss’ Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes, but how much will they actually improve the defense?

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Jon Gruden is expecting the two defensive tackles to improve the Raiders shaky run defense.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Oct 19, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Justin Ellis (78) reacts after a tackle for a loss against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of a dreary 1-6 season, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden found a glimpse of light on Monday afternoon expressing his excitement for the potential returns of defensive tackles Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes.

“I know Eddie Vanderdoes has a chance to make his debut against the 49ers,” Gruden said. “Justin Ellis is a guy we really miss. Obviously, we re-signed him quickly in free agency to make him a big part of this run defense.”

Ellis suffered a foot injury week one against the Rams, and was placed on injured reserve making week nine the earliest he can return. But how much has Oakland truly missed the fifth-year defensive tackle?

Sure, he ranked 15th in run defense a year ago, but his replacement Jonathan Hankins ranked 11th according to Pro Football Focus.

As for Vanderdoes, he practiced with the team for the first time this season last Monday. The second-year defensive tackle suffered a torn ACL last December, and Gruden is eager for his return.

“He’s worked hard to get back,” Gruden said Friday. “We need him. We’re looking forward to having him back.”

“Hopefully we get some healthy bodies next week,” Gruden continued. “Between Vanderdoes and Ellis, two guys who have proven they can play in this league and hopefully [Kelechi] Osemele can come back, too.”

While Vanderdoes started 13 games as a rookie in 2017, he was an absolute liability for the Silver & Black. Between weeks 2-9, the former third round pick recorded just four pressures, which ranked second to last in the NFL. Gruden’s remark that Vanderdoes can “play in this league” is wishful thinking, as he has yet to prove he deserves a spot on the team, let alone as a starter.

Meanwhile, rookie Maurice Hurst has stepped up in the absence of Ellis and Vanderdoes, and has proven he is arguably the best defensive player on the Raiders roster. Through week 7, Hurst’s 82.4 overall grade is tied for 6th among all defensive tackles and defensive ends through the first seven weeks of their rookie seasons. Ironically, the player he is tied with was some guy named Khalil Mack.

Gruden’s expectation of Ellis and Vanderdoes being an upgrade to the defensive line seems mighty high considering their past production and the play of Hurst so far this season.