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Raiders’ Patrick Graham must be feeling left out

Holes on Las Vegas defense has patched up at best thus far

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, right, and elite pass rusher Maxx Crosby will both have their work cut out for them during the upcoming 2023 season.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The cupboard is pretty bare for Patrick Graham.

The Las Vegas Raiders defensive coordinator is in dire need of talent infusion on his side of the ball, and thus far, as the NFL embarks on the latter tier of free agency, the demand is still just as strong.

This, of course, is a byproduct of the Silver & Black’s additions on offense outweighing the ones made on defense. This isn’t meant as a direct slight to safety Marcus Epps, linebacker Robert Spillane, and cornerback Brandon Facyson. Outside of perhaps Epps, the trio don’t match the signings of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, and Phillip Dorsett. The signal caller and the wide out contributed well with their former squads (the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, respectively) and are considered the better free agents at their respective position — with Dorsett fitting in the category of the defenders.

Epps was a full-time starter for a dominant Philadelphia Eagles defense in 2022, but Spillane and Facyson were part-time starters, with the latter getting benched due to ineffectiveness.

Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler ensured the offense got to replace key components that are missing — Garoppolo can be looked as a slight upgrade over Derek Carr, while Meyers is an upgrade as a pass catcher of the departed Mack Hollins — but Epps walks into the building as a more consistent and competent version of Johnathan Abram. Spillane profiles similarly to Denzel Perryman while the book is out on Facyson.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Seattle Seahawks
So far through free agency, Las Vegas Raiders head coach and offensive play caller Josh McDaniels has more to smile about than his defensive counterpart.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Spillane is a hard worker who earned his way to snaps and starts with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that work ethic is always a tremendous asset for NFL teams. But on paper, it’s unclear yet if Spillane is an upgrade, downgrade, or a push. He likely beats Perryman when it comes to availability, though.

“They told me I was going to come in and be given the opportunity to be a green dot and to play and to really be a leader of this team. And I hope to come in and earn respect from not only my coaches but from the teammates as well. And that’s what’s really important to me; come in here and earn respect. I don’t expect anything to be given to me. I’ve earned my way in this league, and I continue to hope to do so.”

At least Facyson seems to be an internal optimist.

“I know they have a rich tradition of just being a stingy defense and everything like that,” the cornerback said during his re-introductory press conference. “I’ve seen what they did last year, they played really well last year, and I’m just looking to see how I can fit in here and add my presence to this and anything we can do to help the team win.”

Thus, Graham has to be eager to see when he’ll get more pieces to work with.

Las Vegas did re-sign defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, safety and special teamer Roderic Teamer, and linebacker (and special teamer) Curtis Bolton, but that’s not enough. Especially considering top-flight free agent defenders like safety Chauncy Gardner-Johnson and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting signed for one-year $8 million and $5 million pacts most recently.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles
Top-flight free agent safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson had to settle for a low one-year $8 million deal in free agency.
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

That’s not to say either of those two high-end defensive backs are a schematic fit for Graham, however, the pair are productive defenders who are certainly going to help their new teams, the Detroit Lions and Tennessee Titans, respectively.

There’s still time to supplement Graham’s side of the ball. Free agency continues to progress and prices will get cheaper — just look at what Gardner-Johnson and Murphy-Bunting inked. And of course, there’s the NFL Draft in April, an event where the Raiders hold 12 picks.

But considering the patch work and the what remains to be done, it’s no surprise to hear Epps’ answer when asked if the team talked about what role they see him in.

“I think we’re still kind of talking through those things, but the biggest thing for me was they really wanted me here,” Epps said. “They really believe in me as a player, as a person, and that went a long way for me. So that was the biggest reason why I chose here.”

Giving Graham the necessary ingredients would go a long way into the Raiders showing they believe in him as a coach and really want him in the desert.