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Middle Man: John Jenkins providing what the Raiders missed and needed at defensive tackle

The 34-year-old veteran is providing the size and ability to rush inside

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Veteran defensive tackle John Jenkins, right, is greeted by teammates after his sack in the Las Vegas Raiders’ win against the New England Patriots last Sunday.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When it times of need, NFL coaches and personnel folk will often go to the well known as familiarity. We’ve seen this quite often with the Las Vegas Raiders. Look at the roster and you’ll see the Patriot flavor infused in the desert that both general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels brought in.

Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is no different.

The Raiders allowed defensive tackle Andrew Billings to walk in free agency after his one-year deal expired and there was a serious need for a space-eating, big-bodied presence on the interior line. It could’ve been 2022 fourth round pick Neil Farrell Jr. as he fit the bill at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds. Instead, the role was won by 34-year-old veteran John Jenkins. and Farrell was traded within the division to the Kanas City Chiefs. Signed a week after free agency opened in mid-March, the flier signing is providing solid results for Graham and the Raiders defense.

The 11-year veteran’s stat line may not be supremely impressive on the surface — 20 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, a sack, and a pass deflection — but the 6-foot-3, 327-pounder is delivering what the Raiders missed and needed.

“I spent time with John back in ‘19, I believe, in Miami. And the biggest thing I can say about him is consistency, and that’s what you need from that position, especially when you think about this week going against Chicago,” Graham said of Jenkins during his mid-week media availability. “I think they’re either seventh or eighth in rushing and you need somebody in there that’s going to be stout, play with his hands, be able to get off the blocks and make tackles, especially against the run game like we’re about to see.

“And for the bulk of his career, again in the few years we’ve been together, he’s done a good job of that. He’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s worked hard in the weight room. He’s worked hard in the meeting room. He’s worked hard out there on the practice field. Consistency. That’s how you get to play that many years in the league, especially at that position.”

Jenkins isn’t one to rack up sacks on a yearly basis. His first for Las Vegas arrived in the team’s 20-17 win over the visiting New England Patriots this past Sunday. Jenkins took advantage of a nickel blitz from cornerback Tyler Hall, who forced Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to took in the ball, and the veteran defensive tackle dropped him for the sack. Overall, Jenkins has only 3.5 career sacks under his name to go along with 232 tackles, 10 for loss, and 11 quarterback hits.

But as Graham noted, Jenkins does an excellent job of commanding attention from the opposition and impacted both run and pass plays. After having only seven starts in the last four seasons, Jenkins has started all six game thus far and played 204 snaps, 53 percent of the entire unit’s snap count. He’s also a willing special teamer holding 26 snaps in that department. For reference, Jenkins’ snap count at his previous stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2022 and 2021 saw him play 260 and 176 snaps, respectively. And he’s still going strong despite being a third-round pick back in the 2013 NFL Draft (by the New Orleans Saints).

Jenkins is one of four interior linemen on the Raiders defense with a sack — Adam Butler and Jerry Tillery each have one while Bilal Nichols has 0.5 — while edge rusher Maxx Crosby leads the team with 5.5 on the season. There have been fleeting glimpses of Graham’s defense creating interior and outside pressure. The safety on Jones to give the Raiders the victory over the Patriots saw Crosby sprint around the edge past would-be blockers while Nichols burst up the middle for a meeting at the quarterback in the end zone. That needs to be more frequent. And if it does, Graham’s defense has the opportunity to do even more than it has.

“Yeah, they did a good job of creating some games and picks for each other. Jerry (Tillery) Adam (Butler), Bilal (Nichols), Jenk (John Jenkins), they all showed up to some degree in there. That’s super helpful because the guys on the edge getso much attention,” McDaniels said when asked about the pressure coming from the defensive tackles. “There are bodies here and there trying to put extra protection, and so it gives them opportunities inside. And whenever there’s something in the face of the quarterback , that always makes everybody’s life a little easier. So, I thought they were aggressive for four quarters.

“We didn’t expose ourselves and let the quarterback just step up and have nobody there in front of him, so he was throwing seven-on-seven a lot. Those guys have been more and more disciplined as the season has gone on. And there was obviously some disruption yesterday within that group.”