It’s no secret that one of the Raiders’ top priorities this offseason was adding an interior pass rush. While the Raiders have two superlative edge rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin (and now Arden Key as well), their inside rush for the last few seasons has ben nearly nonexistent. Justin Ellis is a big body, but has added little in the sack department and Eddie Vanderdoes struggled getting to the quarterback in his rookie year.
So it’s no surprise that Jon Gruden and company looked to add some defensive tackles with pass rushing skills in the draft, and Gruden believes the Raiders have done just that with the additions of Maurice Hurst and PJ Hall.
“Well [Hurst] brings that [interior pass-rushing ability]. That’s what he’s known for. It doesn’t mean he can do it in the NFL. P.J. Hall has a lot of production getting to the quarterback in college. He’s got some measurables – quickness and speed and strength that are important at that position as well. To get those two guys, we felt they were the top two inside rushers in this draft,” said Gruden.
Hurst collected 13.5 sacks as a full-time starter at defensive tackle over the last three seasons at the University of Michigan, which is terrific at that position. But Hall’s numbers are simply eye-popping. Not only is Hall the all-time leader in tackles for loss at Sam Houston State with 86.5, he also racked up an astounding 42 sacks and 14 blocked kicks over the last four seasons. That’s about as dominant as you will see from an interior lineman at any level of competition. Even considering Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne were in this draft, it’s difficult to argue that either of them are better interior pass rushers than either Hurst or Hall.
Our own Fearless Leader, Levi Damien, asked PJ Hall about Gruden’s comments about he and Hurst being the top two interior pass rushers. Hall’s response was thus:
“It’s pretty exciting. I’m ready to get to work. We knew we were going to be challenged with our pass rush out here, so just trying to give them what they need and help the team, doing whatever we can do. Pass rush, stopping the run, just ready to get to work.”
Prior to the draft, Hall had been made aware of Oakland’s need for interior rushers.
“Coming on my visit, I knew that they needed help on the interior pass rush, trying to help out the edge rushers that they had. Having interior pass rush that can help collapse the pocket will actually help them out too, on the edge. We’re just ready to get to work here and do what’s best for the team,” said Hall.
On the first day of rookie minicamp, Hall got a good look at what his new teammate Hurst brings to the table, and he was impressed.
“I definitely do get a feel of how he moves, how he rushes. He’s really explosive just like I would say I was too, so I feel like we’ll be a good combo in the years to come,” said Hall.
Time will tell if Gruden is correct, and these two new Raiders truly were the best interior rushers in the draft. But new Raiders DC Paul Guenther has experience developing quality defensive tackles such as Geno Atkins, and the Raiders’ new defensive front with Hurst, Hall and Key will be one of the most captivating stories come training camp in the summer.