Starters: Mario Edwards Jr, Eddie Vanderdoes, Justin Ellis
Backups: Denico Autry, Treyvon Hester, Jihad Ward, Darius Latham, Shakir Soto
Free agents: Justin Ellis, Denico Autry
This was supposed to be the return of Mario Edwards Jr. His coming out party. It started out that way, with 3.0 sacks in the first four weeks. Then he disappeared, putting up just a half sack the rest of the season and missing two games to injury late in the year. Over his final five games he recorded just one assist. He has just one year left on his rookie deal, having been lost to injury in each of his first three seasons with just 5.5 career sacks.
Somehow, despite outplaying Edwards at pretty much every turn, Autry is always the backup whenever Edwards can go. He led the NFL last season with 7 passes deflected at the line and his 5.0 sacks were third on the team.
The past three years the Raiders have used a day two pick on an interior defensive end. First Edwards, then Jihad Ward, then Eddie Vanderdoes. Last season as a rookie, Ward got starts to see if he could step up. He didn’t and was inactive for all but five games last season in favor of Vanderdoes who got starts to see if he could be the answer. He too was raw and, like Ward, consistently got caught up in the wash. Then Vanderdoes would tear his ACL in the season finale; an injury that always makes one worry if the player will fully recover, and if he does, how long until he’s back to full strength.
Ellis had a career year in 2017. Most of that was done in the early going, with him fading down the stretch and returning to the more pedestrian numbers we saw from him in his first three NFL seasons.
Other than Autry, probably the best looking interior defender the Raiders had was 7th round rookie, Treyvon Hester. He made the most of very limited work and put up 10 of his 19 combined tackles in the final four games.
Latham was inactive for all but three games last season. Soto was signed to a futures deal this offseason.
It’s hard to believe after spending two draft picks on interior defenders last year including one in the top three rounds of each of the last three drafts, that the Raiders are in this position right now. Edwards is shaky, Ward looks like he could be a bust, and Vanderdoes is a serious question mark both with his play and his injury.
Their best defensive lineman last season was Autry who is set to hit the free agent market and according to a source, there have been no discussions between he and the Raiders one way or the other on whether he will be brought back. Getting that ball rolling and attempting to re-sign him should be a priority.
Ellis figures to be headed for free agency and an upgrade is needed at that nose tackle spot. There is absolutely no way they can go without addressing this position either in free agency, the draft, or both.
What condition do you think the Raiders’ defensive interior is in?
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