This week, the good folks from Football Outsiders have been answering several questions posed to them from we here at Silver and Black Pride. The first three questions dealt with the coaching staff and receiver group, but this question is about the defensive line.
The final question answered by Football Outsiders will be posted tomorrow night.
S&BP: Oakland has put a lot of emphasis on their defensive line this year. They added PJ Hall, Arden Key, and Maurice Hurst to a line that already has Bruce Irvin and, as soon as his new contract gets done, Khalil Mack. How do you feel their pass rush will perform this year in relation to top units like Philadelphia, the Rams and Denver?
FO: I love Hall as a run stuffer who adds a bit of pass rush and much-needed reliability. If Hurst is healthy, the Raiders got a steal as a penetrator on the interior. I suggest caution about edge rushers who were great players before disappearing into the dab life; you often end up with someone who isn’t ready for the rigors of NFL conditioning or the expectations of professionalism. I also strongly suggest slowing the roll on comparisons to the Eagles, Rams, Broncos or Jaguars. The Raiders recorded 31 sacks last year, and 10.5 of them are currently not returning phone calls. Some draftnik favorites aren’t going to make them a Top Five unit.
It’s natural to be skeptical of huge production estimates for rookie players, but that’s exactly what we’re getting from Denver, with Bradley Chubb expected to be a key contributor. Why shouldn’t we expect the same from the Raiders’ pair of rookie defensive tackles, especially considering the reason we only got 31 sacks was a total lack of interior pressure?
Arden Key fell in the draft because of those very concerns about returning to the game from a rehab stint and lessened production as a senior. Time will tell if he is ready and mature enough to be a true professional and conduct himself in the way that is expected of him. Early reports are good, but the nature of addiction problems is that they come back. Hopefully Key will prove the Raiders wise in drafting him.
The talent level disparity between these Raiders, who have had a dominant defensive line in the preseason, and the top lines in the league isn’t huge as long as Khalil Mack is on that line. If he isn’t, the line is middle of the road, but still a step up from what the Raiders fielded last year based on the upgrades to the interior.
Football Outsiders are right in that Mack is the key to all the Raiders’ hopes of having an elite defensive line, but they do like the players we picked up, as do we all. Hopefully that deal for Mack can get done soon so that the Raiders can be one of the most feared lines in football.