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Raiders Outlook 2023: Divine Deablo one of the key defenders to improve red zone woes

If he gets the green dot, the linebacker has a critical job

Las Vegas Raiders v Tennessee Titans
If linebacker Divine Deablo (5) wears the green dot this upcoming season, he’ll be getting the play calls from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and must get the defense aligned. Communication will be key.
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

With great power comes great responsibility. That line written by the legendary Stan Lee for his Spider-Man comic books is an apt one when it comes to the green dot that NFL defenders wear. That distinction means said player has one-way communication with the defensive play caller.

And this coming season for the Las Vegas Raiders, linebacker Divine Deablo may be the one sporting that green dot. That means he’ll get the play calls from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. And it’s Deablo’s responsibility to relay the call to his teammates, get them lined up, and combat the opposing offense.

Great power, great responsibility. Which makes Deablo one of the key defenders the Raiders are going to lean heavily on to improve a lackluster defense — particularly in the red zone.

This past season, Las Vegas was near the bottom in league rankings in stopping touchdowns in the money zone ranking 29th out of the 32 squads. When opponents rolled inside the 20-yard line, they ended up getting into the end zone 64.8 percent of the time (54 red zone visits by opponents, 35 red zone touchdowns).

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Even with an elite pass rusher Maxx Crosby (98), Patrick Graham’s (right) Las Vegas Raiders defense ranked 29th in red zone efficiency. Opponents visited the red zone 54 times and scored 35 touchdowns.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Raiders, that made the playoffs, had an even worse ranking — dead last — with a staggering 81.4 percent of red zone visits by the opposition resulting in a touchdown (43 red zone attempts, 35 touchdowns).

You’ll have to go back to the 2017 and 2015 seasons for the last times the Raiders ranked in the top 10 in red zone defense — both Jack Del Rio squads. In 2017, the then-Oakland Raiders ranked ninth by limiting opponent’s to a 47.9 percent touchdown rate (48 visits, 23 end zone visits). And in 2015, the Silver & Black ranked ninth with a 51.7 percent rate (58 red zone visits, 30 touchdowns). The 2017 squad finished 6-10 while the 2015 group ended 7-9.

Let’s look at the group of players that need to step up to stonewall (or realistically, marginally disrupt) the opposition’s red zone visits:

The Obvious Three

Linebacker Divine Deablo:

The safety-turned-linebacker is more confident and put on more muscle mass this season. Las Vegas will need every bit of all that plus improved read-react diagnostic skills from Deablo. He has the speed and coverage chops to be a difference maker. And Deablo has become more vocal too, which will prove quite useful if he’s the one wearing the green dot.

Edge rusher Maxx Crosby:

A terrorizing presence for opposing quarterback’s, there’s no denying the impact the elite pass rusher brings from the defensive end spot. He’s dedication to the craft is uncanny and he’ll bring the same relentlessness on every snap which makes him both a run stopper and quarterback hunter inside the 20s.

Cornerback Nate Hobbs:

Whether inside or outside, the Raiders most talented corner is both physical and sticky in coverage and tackles well. A hand injury took away a lot of Hobbs’ ability to press and redirect at the line of scrimmage but he’s got a clean bill of health this season. A more concentrated effort on the back end should give Crosby and other pass rushers more time to operate.

New To The Arsenal

Linebacker Robert Spillane:

Here’s the other candidate to wear the green dot and bark out the plays and get everyone aligned. A hard-nosed defender that is more adept as a run stuffer, Spillane can fill the gaps quickly and is strong and tough enough to bring down ball carriers at or behind the line of scrimmage. He’ll need to prove as steady as a cover man when teams do decide to throw in the red zone, however.

Minnesota Vikings v Buffalo Bills
Cornerback Duke Shelley signals incomplete pass after knocking away a pass int he end zone in overtime against the Buffalo Bills back on Nov. 13, 2022.
Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images

Cornerback Duke Shelley:

An extremely stingy corner last season, Shelley plays much bigger than his 5-foot-9 stature suggests. He sticks to his assignments, his more physical than his size suggests, and his ability to make a play on the ball in flight and keep it away from receivers has been stellar. If Shelley can do that in Silver & Black, he’ll be a difference maker inside the 20s.

Edge rusher Tyree Wilson:

The long-limbed power rusher that was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft has the physical tools to be a difference maker. Las Vegas will need every bit of Wilson’s ability to combat offense’s in the red zone. But having another effective pass rusher screaming off the edge opposite Crosby will help the entire defensive unit.

Don’t Sleep On

Edge rusher Chandler Jones:

Leaner heading into his 12th season in the league, Jones hopes the lost weight will improve both availability and effectiveness. He’s another massive wing span defender who should be able to affect both the pass and run. What will be interesting to see is if the Raiders can deploy Crosby, Jones, and Wilson at the same time.

Safety Marcus Epps:

An eliminator-type tackler, Epps’ presence is going to be felt when defending the run. He can read and react quickly and can drop the hammer with his hitting ability. That diagnostic skill should also help Epps in coverage and he can lay the lumber to dislodge the ball from a receiver.

Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols:

If the Raiders are to generate an interior pass rush more often, Nichols must be at the forefront. He did register 11 quarterback hits last year, but only 1.5 sacks. A continued effort from Nichols at getting after the quarterback will pay dividends for the entire defense.