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Raider longshots 2022: Kyle Peko

Veteran defensive tackle brings toughness and hustle to defensive line

Jacksonville Jaguars v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Kyle Peko bounced off and on the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills roster before earning the most playing time of his career last season with the Tennessee Titans.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Not all NFL careers follow the same path. Take Kyle Peko, for example. The veteran defensive tackle is a prime example of how teams can yo-yo an undrafted free agent around.

The former Oregon State Beaver entered the league in 2016 with the Denver Broncos at age 23 and has bounced off and on the practice squad and active roster, playing sparingly. It wasn’t until last season with the Tennessee Titans where the 6-foot-1, 305-pound Peko found solid footing by playing the most games (eight) and most starts (three) of his career. He racked up 10 total tackles with two sacks (his first and second of his career) along with a a forced fumble and two stops for loss.

Yet, even with that respectable stat line, Peko wasn’t brought back by the Titans. The 29-year-old, however, did attract the attention of the Las Vegas Raiders and was one of a slew of defensive linemen the new regime of general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels brought into the mix this offseason. He may be a long shot to make the active roster in 2022, but that doesn’t deter Peko from going about his work quietly and confidently.

“For myself, I’ve enjoyed it,” Peko said when asked about bouncing around teams since he arrived. “I’ve been lucky and blessed to be able to have a career this long. Whether it’s good bouncing around or not. Like I said, I think it’s been beneficial for me because I’ve been in so many different defenses and positions along the interior line. I think that’s maybe why I’ve been able to last so long.”

Versatility is definitely the new modus operandi (MO) of this breed of Raiders. From Ziegler on down, the Silver & Black have stressed the ability to play multiple positions to maximize the return on investment the team is making on players. And Peko’s experience in a variety of schemes from the Broncos, Titans and Buffalo Bills gives him the enviable ability to assimilate to different philosophies and positions — despite coming into the league as a space-eating nose tackle.

“Yeah. College and in my early career, I was strictly nose,” Peko noted. “Then after going to a different couple of teams, I’ve been in a different couple of defenses now. I’ve been able to learn the end, the three tech, and the nose spots. Couple more things in the toolbox.”

A varied toolbox is an endearing thing to McDaniels’ and his coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and defensive line coach Frank Okam, in particular, will ask defenders to be flexible and place them in multiple spots on any given formation. The philosophy helps the Raiders be unpredictable at times but also helps the team prep for eventual injuries or lack of availability — as evidenced by presumed starting nose tackle Johnathan Hankins and three technique Bilal Nichols being on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. It’s the hackneyed “next man up” mantra but it’s necessary and real in Las Vegas.

“I think Coach Pat [Patrick] got us going through a couple of different formations. Upfront the more you can do, the better,” Peko said. “So, I think for all the interior guys knowing each end knows the three tech spot. It’s just beneficial for the whole defense in the long run.”

Peko’s stat line through preseason will leave a lot of folk wanting more: Two total tackles. But for a space-eater like Peko, even if he moves all along the defensive front, drawing as much attention as possible is key. One-on-one blocks are preferable, but if Peko can draw the center and guard, or tackle and guard, then he’s doing his job. Occupying blockers while maintaining his ground or pushing the blockers backwards means more than total tackles. Why?

“For us up front, the trenches are the trenches. Whether you’re playing one gap or two gap. We’re down there in the dirt, so it’s not a big difference for the interior guys,” Peko noted. “Overall, for the defense I think it’s going to free up and help our linebackers a lot. It’s going to be beneficial for us.”

Just like how an old-school battering ram fullback clears a path, Peko and other defensive linemen do the same for edge rushers, linebackers, and defensive backs. Take on blockers to free up other defenders to get to the ball carrier or quarterback.

Through the two initial preseason games, Peko has shown the ability to do just that along with hustle and confidence. While he does face an uphill climb if/when Hankins and Nichols returns, Peko can continue to impress with his playing time.