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Raiders 2023 offseason: Defensive returners

There will be wholesale changes on Las Vegas’ defense

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints
Divine Deablo
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The legal tampering period of free agency begins Monday and, in addition to, of course, figuring out the quarterback position, upgrading the defense will be a priority for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Because of free agency and the need for upgrades, the Raiders will have holes on every layer of the defense. In fact, there aren’t a ton of for-sure returners to the unit. Let’s look at them:

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Maxx Crosby
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Maxx Crosby:
He’s the lead singer of this group. He just needs a better band behind him. Crosby is probably a top 5 defensive player in the NFL and he is entering his prime as he turns 26 in August. He’s getting better every season. The Raiders hit the lottery with Crosby in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. Now, they need to get him some help.

Chandler Jones:

Jones will be a Raider in 2023 because it would be way to expensive to cut him. That will likely happen next year unless he makes a big comeback at age 33. Jones was a big disappointment after signing a three-year, $51 million deal last year. He had just 4.5 sacks. He had his moments, but overall, he didn’t do much. The Raiders will likely need to look at more pass-rush help for Crosby this offense.

Bilal Nichols:

Nichols is another 2022 free-agent addition who was pretty quiet. He played all 17 games, but didn’t make much noise at all. They need to get better production this season.

Divine Deablo:

He was one of the few young defensive holdovers from the previous regime to make strides under first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham in 2022. Deablo, a third-round pick in 2021, started the first eight games of the season and was among the league leaders with 74 tackles when he suffered a season-ending injury. Deablo flashed as a rookie and he looks like a key part of this defense moving forward. With needs for impact on all layers of the unit and for a long-term answer at linebacker, this is an intriguing player.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Nate Hobbs
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Hobbs:

Hobbs was a stud as a rookie in 2021, but missed six games due to injury in 2022. When on the field, he wasn’t dynamic as he was as a rookie. But he is still an ascending player and a big part of this unit moving forward.

Tre’von Moehrig:

The 2021 second-round pick had a disappointing second season. He lost playing time at different points of the season. Moehrig showed he could play in 2021. Maybe he’s a bad fit for this defense. But he has the ability to play in the NFL and both he and the coaching staff have to figure it out in 2023 or it will be another lost top pick used on the secondary.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
Luke Masterson
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Masterson:

The 2022 undrafted free agent was pretty impressive and played a lot at linebacker down the stretch. I think he sticks with a chance to become a starter depending on what the Raiders do this offseason.

Amik Robertson:

He is entering his walk year. Robertson had his moments last year and made some plays. But he’s a rotational player. He should be back.

Probably: I’d expect 2022 draft picks, defensive tackles Matthew Butler and Neil Ferrell, to get a chance to earn some playing time after pretty slow rookie years. This is a make-or-break year for 2021 third-round pick, pass-rusher Malcolm Koonce and 2022 undrafted rookie cornerbacks Tyler Hall and Sam Webb, linebacker Darien Butler and safety Isaiah Pola-Mao all have a chance to build on their 2022 roles.


Again, there may be some free-agent returners such as linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and safety Duron Harmon as there will be incoming free agents and draft picks. But the Raiders need these returners to all step up as this defense tries to make major strides in 2023.