2015 Position Review: Defensive Line

Posted Feb 16, 2016

As the NFL offseason gets underway, takes a look back at the current Raiders roster and breaks down each position.

More Position Reviews: Quarterbacks, Safeties, Offensive Line, Cornerbacks

Overview: Heading into the 2015 season, the Oakland Raiders wanted to set the tone defensively up front with their defensive line, and for the most, part they did just that.

The defensive line was certainly a group that showed growth as the season wore on, finishing the 2015 campaign allowing 104.9 rushing yards per game and showcasing depth in the position group as personnel changed throughout the season.

However, one of the biggest changes to the line came before the season began, as Khalil Mack was officially listed as a defensive end and played with his hand in the dirt after playing his rookie season primarily as a linebacker.

The move was made to help Mack get to the quarterback more and increase his sack total, and did it ever, as he finished the season with 15 total sacks which was good for second in the NFL behind just J.J. Watt.

In addition to Mack’s elite productivity, the line was anchored by defensive tackles Justin Ellis and Dan Williams, and after Justin Tuck’s season-ending injury of and Aldon Smith’s suspension, rookie Mario Edwards Jr. seized the other end position and played well before he was placed on Injured Reserve Dec. 23.

By The Numbers: Mack became the first player with five sacks in a game (Week 14 vs. Denver) in which his team won by three points or fewer, since sacks became an official stat in 1982. All of Mack’s five sacks came in the second half against Denver, tying for the most sacks in a half since 1991.

Going Forward: Going into 2016, the defensive line appears to in pretty good shape – with two big questions that still need to be answered.

Returning up front are Mack, Ellis and Williams, with Denico Autry, Benson Mayowa and Shelby Harris all remaining in the fray for next season. Defensive tackle Leon Orr also came on strong over the final month of the season and will be a player to keep an eye on as the offseason program gets underway.

However, the two big questions when it comes to the defensive line are Mario Edwards Jr. and Aldon Smith.

Edwards missed the Silver and Black’s final two games with a neck injury, but since his injury, no timetable has been placed on his return and the severity remains a mystery.

Smith, on the other hand, was placed on the Reserve/Suspended list Nov. 18 and his future, not just with the Raiders, but in the NFL in general, remains a big storyline heading into next season.

Standout Performer: The entire unit was solid throughout the year, but Khalil Mack was just a cut above the rest.

In his sophomore season, he recorded the aforementioned 15 total sacks, 11 more than his rookie year, and became one of the elite defensive players in the NFL.

He not only saw his sack numbers dramatically increase, but he also remained a force in the run game, earning his first Pro Bowl berth and also becoming the first player in league history to be named a First-Team All-Pro at two positions (defensive end and linebacker) in the same season.