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2018 Position Review: Defensive Line

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MORE POSITION REVIEWS: Quarterbacks, Safeties, Offensive Line

We talked about the offensive line for the Oakland Raiders yesterday, so it seems only fair that today we talk about their counterparts on the defensive side of the ball.

As was the case for the o-line, 2018 was also a season of growth for the Silver and Black’s defensive line, particularly with a trio of rookies getting extensive time as the season wore on.

Time to look back at the play of the Silver and Black’s defensive line, and also look ahead to what next season could have in store for Mike Trgovac’s group.

Overview:

Stop me if this sounds familiar – the 2018 season was defined by the play of the rookies in this position group.

While the story of the Raiders offensive line last year began with Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker, the story of the defensive line began with a trio of first-year players as well, Maurice Hurst, Arden Key, and P.J. Hall.

Combined, the triumvirate appeared in 43 games as rookies – Key played in all 16 – and while they no doubt dealt with their fair share of rookie struggles last year, the benefit of seeing a ton of reps fresh out of the gate will hopefully manifest itself in 2019 and beyond.

While there was unquestionably a youth movement afoot along the line, veterans like Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Hankins, Clinton McDonald and Justin Ellis definitely provided a nice balance to the group as well.

Headed into 2019, the Raiders presumed starting edge rushers were Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, but after Mack was traded prior to Week 1, and Irvin was waived in early-November, the shape and feel of the Raiders defensive line was drastically different at the end of the season compared to when action got underway at training camp.

Personnel aside, when discussing the play of the d-line in 2018, the big thing that comes to mind is the challenge that taking down the quarterback presented.

In total, the Silver and Black ended 2018 with 13 sacks – the fewest in the league – a mark 17 behind the next closest team, in this case, the New York Giants.

And while total sacks numbers can be a little deceiving – let’s remember that sacks don’t necessarily equate to solid team defense – it does illustrate the point that for much of the year, the big fellas in the trenches had a hard time consistently applying pressure to the opposing quarterback.

Now, do I think that issue will likely be remedied by the time the Raiders kick off action in Week 1 of the 2019 regular season? I sure do, but the fact remains that this year, that area was one where the Raiders struggled.

Like I said though, with three rookies getting such meaningful time, although the results might not necessarily have been there this year, the fact that trio played so much in 2018 should give Raiders fan reasons for optimism going forward.

The Number To Know:

4

That’s how many sacks Mo Hurst had during his rookie season, leading all Raiders in that metric.

Now, I know that the total sack numbers just weren’t there for the Silver and Black last year, but give Hurst credit, not only did he get to the quarterback more than any other Raider in 2018, but he showed that he’s the type of player you really can build a defensive line around.

The Raiders front office struck gold stealing Hurst in the fifth – yes, I repeat, fifth – round of last year’s draft, and the athletic lineman very much lived up to his billing as a Day 1 type of guy.

The future is bright for No. 73; I’m excited to see what a full offseason will do for him in Year 2.

Position Group MVP:

While Big Mo made quite the case to be the defensive line MVP, I’m going to give the nod to Frostee Rucker.

The veteran defensive lineman not only appeared in 15 games for the Raiders – finishing the year with 37 tackles – but he was a consummate professional and provided a sterling example for the younger players around him of what a true pro looks like.

From the coaching staff, to the players on the roster, and even the media, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who had a bad thing to say about Rucker, and good guy status aside, even in Year 12, the big man found a way to produce.

Every good team needs a guy like Frostee Rucker, and while the team results weren’t there last year, Rucker no doubt did his part in trying to make the Silver and Black the best they could be.

Going Forward:

The trio of Hurst, Key, and Hall is obviously under contract for 2019, but after that, the defensive line is a group that certainly appears to have some fluidity going forward.

Frostee Rucker is set to become a free agent, as is Kony Ealy, Jonathan Hankins, Clinton McDonald, Ahtyba Rubin, and Jacquies Smith, meaning that Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and Co., will have some big decisions to make headed into the new league year.

Joining the three rookies under contract for next year are Gabe Wright and Justin “Jelly” Ellis, but even with them inked for 2019, there will positions to fill over the coming months.

Also, don’t forget about Eddie Vanderdoes; the former UCLA Bruin missed all of 2018, but I’ll be interested to see if he’ll figure into the mix if he’s healthy in 2019.

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