Today, we learned the Raiders plan to move Bruce Irvin to defensive end. Even though Irvin was a pass rusher already, him moving back to DE is not a small thing. It changes a lot of things and will have a rippled effect on the defense. Here are my top five observations from the move.
1. Bruce Irvin does his best work at DE
I keep wondering whether Irvin may have been either exaggerating or showing some disingenuous enthusiasm when he said Ken Norton Jr saved his career with a switch to linebacker. Upon the news today that he would be moving (back) to defensive end, he has not held back in his enthusiasm, going as far as to say he “hated” having to drop into coverage as a linebacker.
What the stats show is that he should be a defensive end. It’s his drafted position. He spend his rookie season at defensive end and put up a career high 8.0 sacks despite zero starts. His first 27 games with the Raiders, he played primarily outside linebacker, putting up 9.5 sacks. Then after Norton was fired and Pagano played Irvin more at defensive end, he had 5.0 sacks in his first three games and finished with tying his career high 8.0 sacks.
This isn’t hard.
2. Raiders are moving to primarily 4-3 defense
Irvin is not a versatile defensive lineman. He plays 4-3 defensive end and that’s it. So, it would be your standard 4-3 with Khalil Mack at the other DE spot with two defensive tackles in between and three linebackers in coverage.
3. Makes Mario Edwards Jr a 3-tech DT
Not to say Edwards is the answer to the Raiders issues finding interior pass rush — I don’t think he is — but playing 3-tech DT isn’t even a switch of positions for him. He’s been the team’s 5-tech and 3-tech all this time, depending on the alignment. When they’re in the 3-4, he’s a 5-tech defensive end. Then he stays on the field as a 3-tech when they switch alignment to a 4-3. He would just be spending more time with a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end next to him instead of a stand-up outside linebacker. Not much changes for Edwards here.
4. Opens up strong side linebacker spot
Irvin was listed as the team’s strong side linebacker, which meant they had two off the ball linebackers at middle linebacker and weak side linebacker. A move to defensive end means someone else will be playing the strong side linebacker spot. That player could be newly signed free agent linebacker, Tahir Whitehead, who has said he can and has played at any of the three linebacker spots. Though it’s hard to say for sure at this point.
Speaking of versatile linebackers; another option would be the draft, where a player like Tremaine Edmunds could be a fantastic option as a strong side linebacker (or most any linebacker spot).
5. Keeps middle linebacker on the table
Whitehead’s addition, prior to the idea that Irvin would move to DE, with the current roster, would make him the most logical choice to play middle linebacker. Leading some to wonder if the position was still a need. With another linebacker spot opening up, it puts adding another player to play MLB back on the table.
Sitting in the middle of that table is one NaVorro Bowman. Raiders leading tackler in 2017 despite just 10 games with the team. Who has yet to be re-signed but who is still unsigned by any team, reminding me a lot of Perry Riley Jr last year. But Bowman is a LOT better than Riley. Like, it’s not even close. And I liked Riley too.
Should Bowman end up signing elsewhere instead, the Raiders will still be in the market for a linebacker in the draft, including, but not limited to, a middle linebacker where they could get Roquan Smith with their top pick.