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Raiders offseason: Making the Year 2 jump

Neil Farrell Jr., Matthew Butler need to become mainstays at defensive tackle

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Las Vegas Raiders v Miami Dolphins
Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr. must make a second year jump and get more snaps this coming season.
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The return on investment the Las Vegas Raiders made on Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler were minimal at best this past season. And that’s not ideal.

The pair were the double-dip combo at defensive tackle in the inaugural draft by Silver & Black general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels as the team looked to strengthen the interior defensive line. Selected 24 picks apart in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, of the 2022 NFL Draft (Ferrell 126th overall and Butler 175th overall) the duo arrived with requisite size (Farrell at 6-foot-4, 319 pounds; Butler 6-foot-4, 295 pounds) backed by collegiate production.

It didn’t translate into the pros Year 1, however.

Whether it was coaching, ineffective play, or the tough transition to the NFL game, all culminated in a combined for a total of 214 snaps, 17 tackles, and 0.5 sacks in Farrell’s and Butler’s rookie season. Most of that production came via Farrell who garnered 158 snaps (27 percent of the Raiders defense’s total work) and racked up 12 total tackles (with one stop for loss and two quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Reference). Butler, on the other hand, totaled 56 snaps on defense and produced five total tackles (0.5 sacks and a quarterback hit).

Getting more bang out of the draft buck is certainly at the forefront of the Raiders’ collective minds, especially considering the team’s ambition to become a contender and not a cellar dweller. That entails Ziegler and his crew selecting the prospects and McDaniels and his staff developing the picks into contributors. Plain language: Get more participation and production from Farrell and Butler.

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive tackle Matthew Butler (73) only garnered 56 total snaps during his rookie season last year.
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

“We can’t think that free agency is going to fix all our issues,” McDaniels told The Athletic last week. “Our issues are going to get fixed in the draft. And that, ultimately, is going to take a little time. It may take more than one draft. And, likely, it does. We drafted (Matthew) Butler and (Neil) Farrell Jr. last year and, hopefully, we can get those guys to improve and play a bigger role this year than they did last year, and this year we have a lot of picks and that’s the way the team’s going to improve. It isn’t going to be through free agency.

All is not lost with both young tackles — far from it. There’s ample time for Farrell and Butler to realize the potential the Raiders saw in them when selecting the LSU and Tennessee products, respectively. Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, new defensive line coach Rob Leonard, and senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan will all have hands-on work with the pair. All the physical tools are there and another full offseason should help Farrell and Butler mature.

The Raiders coaches are emphasizing competition and depth throughout the roster and with defensive tackle far from settled, Farrell has the opportunity to become the run-stuffing, space-eating nose tackle role that Andrew Billings held. Butler, meanwhile, has the chance to be a disrupting three-technique with the juice to get after the passer from the interior — something Las Vegas sorely needs.

“I think one of the things that’s lost a little bit sometimes is your ability to continue working with somebody, (it’s) sometimes overlooked in terms of their overall development and impact on the team,” McDaniels noted. “So, we had some players last year that played roles, but could they be better in their second year? Could we be better with them in our second year coaching them ... where you have an opportunity to come back and run it back again and see where we can go with it this year as opposed to just calling it a day after one year?”

They’ll certainly get their opportunities. What they do with it will laregely be up Farrell and Butler to decide.