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Matching Maxx: Raiders defensive success pinned on Crosby again

Here are the other defenders that need to step up

Las Vegas Raiders v Pittsburgh Steelers
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) was a complete defender last season by excelling against the run and hunting down quarterbacks. But this coming season, he’ll need other defenders to step up.
Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

If the Las Vegas Raiders could bottle up what fuels Maxx Crosby’s relentless drive and dedication, the team would ensure everyone on the team drinks it up. Two servings even.

But the Silver & Black can’t simply bottle up the lightning within their elite pass rusher. The Raiders can only hope other defenders are inspired by Crosby’s tireless work ethic and follow suit. And how could other Raiders defenders not be?

Crosby is an excellent lead-by-example type on the field. He became an all-around defender in 2022 excelling in snuffing out the run and hunt down opposing quarterbacks as the 25-year-old led Las Vegas in total tackles (89), tackles for loss (22), sacks (12.5) and quarterback hits (36). Even when he was tired, he didn’t show it as he accounted for 1,085 snaps on defense which was 96 percent of the entire Raiders defensive snap count. Crosby even played on special teams racking up 101 snaps (22 percent of the units total).

New defensive line coach Rob Leonard got to see Crosby’s burning passion up close during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. It was something to marvel at as the coach and Crosby bonded over Kobe Bryant’s legendary “Mamba Mentality” of being the best version of yourself in every aspect of life every single day.

“I don’t care whether it’s a sport, whatever it may be, somebody that’s passionate, hungry, wants to be the best at what they do, those are the people I want to be around,” Leonard said. “Those are the people I want to coach. “It’s fun to coach at a place where the standards are high and the players know what to expect every day.”

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones, bottom, and defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (91) combine to hit and pressure New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones back in December. The Silver & Black need Chandler Jones and Nichols to step up in 2023.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So it’s no surprise that Las Vegas’ defensive success in heavily pinned on Crosby — again.

But even the best need support. Especially when there are 10 other teammates on the field. For the Raiders defense to ascend from the pits of the league rankings, all 11 on the field must operate with the sense of urgency Crosby displays. And, potentially, increased effectiveness from the collective may allow Crosby to attain a different level — something more — than he’s displayed so far.

Here’s the other Raiders who need to step up:

Chandler Jones: The veteran tag team partner was supposed to form a formidable 1-2 pass rush punch with Crosby, but instead, it seemed the Raiders’ pass rush had one hand tied behind its back as Jones flopped in his first year in Silver & Black. Jones did report to camp in much leaner shape and he’s hoping dropping excess weight results in a more healthy and spry 2023 campaign. At age 33, a late-career resurgence may be a bridge too far for Jones but if he can still show pass rush prowess, it’ll help the Raiders two fold: 1. It’ll give the team a much-needed second rusher to complement Crosby. 2. It’s a great learning tool for No. 7 overall pick Tyree Wilson to watch and experience up close.

Nate Hobbs: Arguably the most talented cornerback on the Raiders roster, Hobbs is both physically and mentally gifted. He isn’t shy to press wide receivers or making tackles in run support. He has the requisite moxie and chip on his shoulder to be a difference maker and a clean bill of health this season is likely going to parlay itself into CB1. Whether lined up on the outside or inside in the slot, Hobbs needs to set the tone and can be a vocal lead-by-example type in the secondary and be a sounding board for Crosby. At only 24 years old, Hobbs is a rising player who has superstar traits. But it’ll be up to him if he ascends to that level — something Las Vegas is in dire need of in a young secondary.

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs is arguably the most talented member of the Silver & Black secondary. Hobbs has the opportunity to become the team’s top cornerback.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Divine Deablo: Adorned the green dot in OTAs and minicamp, Deablo is reportedly more confident and willing to take on the role of key communicator on the Raiders defense. That dot represents the one-way communication a defender will have with defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and is responsible for relaying the play call to the other 10 men on the field and lining everyone up. It’s a new responsibility for Deablo, but the 24-year-old third-year player has earned it. Before he went down with a season-ending in November last season, Deablo was far and away the Raiders leading tackler. He has the speed to be a difference maker and if he does get the green dot, he’ll be given supreme responsibility.

Bilal Nichols: Someone needs to draw the attention away from the edge and make the interior pass rush something to consider. The prime candidate for that is Nichols. The 26-year-old six-year veteran did get in the backfield and hit the quarterback, however, most of that arrived just as the signal caller was firing a pass. The best pressure is always the one that arrives at the quarterback’s face and Nichols is afforded another opportunity to make a difference inside. While by no means old, he’s the most experience defensive tackle who can rush the passer and can be another follow-the-leader type on defense.

Tre’Von Moehrig: A pure thief at TCU, the safety has been anything but that in his short tenure as as Raider. While he rarely comes off the field when he’s available in his first two years, he hasn’t been the same difference-maker he was as a Horned Frog. Moehrig displayed uncanny ability to read and react to plays, undercut routes or jump on them to make plays on the ball — in many cases — taking it away. The same diagnostic speed-to-action hasn’t been on display in the pros. But the talent, speed, and awareness is still there. At 24 years old, there’s still time to develop but Las Vegas is seeking to get the Jim Thorpe Award (recognized as the nation’s top defensive back) winning safety and that should happen this coming season.