The Las Vegas Raiders didn’t make many moves to improve their interior defensive line before the start of the season. The mixture of players didn’t inspire confidence, and the early returns haven’t fared well during the first six games.
That’s why the trade of Johnathan Hankins caught everyone off-guard, with the position becoming underwhelming overall. Hankins was a fan favorite who has worn the silver and black since 2018. However, his play started to slip as of late, and we didn’t see the same impact as the run defender expected from Hankins.
The performance of the former Ohio State Buckeye made him dispensable in the eyes of the Raiders coaching staff. Plus, the young players behind him will get a chance to create an impact, and Bilal Nichols has improved as the season progresses.
There is a player who plays the same position as Hankins, who is having a bounce back after a down year. Andrew Billings has stepped up as a run defender on first and second down, helping the Raiders control rushing attacks for most of the season.
While there hasn’t been a massive impact on the numbers, Billings is doing his job, causing disruption and allowing linebackers to move freely behind him and make plays. It was his specialty coming out of Baylor, and it is on full display during the first half of the season.
Billings had his best performance of the year vs. the Houston Texans. PFF said he was the second highest-graded player during Week 7 behind Duron Harmon. He was disruptive the whole matchup, helping to slow down a running game with one of the most talented backs in football.
This third and one play late in the game shows his impact in the run game. Billings keeps his pad level low to gain leverage, then uses his power to push the guard back into the running back. There was nowhere for Dameon Pierce to go, and a significant part was the big man inside.
Here he is vs. the Texans on another run play where he blows up the outside zone. Pierce can still find yards, but you see the chaos from Billings defending the run.
The former Baylor Bear is on the younger side compared to Hankins. Billings is still 27 and with a season missed to covid precautions. There is more upside as a long-term starter while Hankins is heading toward the backend of his career.
While Hankins was a good Raider for many years, the regime felt it was time to move on. Players such as Billings helped the move easier than ever before.