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2020 Position Battle: Rod Marinelli expected to bring the most out of young defensive line

The Raiders made strides in 2019 in a category that needed to see improvement, as then-rookies Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell helped ignite the team's pass rush.

Thirty-two sacks was a drastic improvement from the team's 2018 total of 13, but the Silver and Black still ranked outside of the top 20 sack totals a season ago; however, growth and added depth this offseason indicate the group is trending upward.

A lot will weigh on the shoulders of Ferrell and Crosby this season, as they're expected to take another step forward in their development this season, but it's not their burden to carry alone. The addition of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli should benefit the duo and the supporting cast immensely.

With that said, let's evaluate the defensive line ahead of the upcoming season.

Previous Position Battles:

New Faces

Ade Aruna

Carl Nassib

Jeremiah Valoaga

Kendal Vickers

Maliek Collins

Mike Panasiuk

Daniel Ross

Returning Players

Clelin Ferrell

Maxx Crosby

Johnathan Hankins

P.J. Hall

Maurice Hurst

Arden Key

Position Review

No one expected Maxx Crosby to become a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate as a fourth-round pick, but 10 sacks and four forced fumbles catapulted him into the discussion. "The Condor" — a nickname he received from analyst Brian Baldinger — was one of 18 players in the NFL last year to amass at least 10 sacks and one of only two rookies to do so. Crosby brings effort on every snap, which Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden love about him, but when mixed with his size and length it makes him a challenging matchup for offensive linemen.

While several analysts missed the mark on their pre-draft Crosby grades, many NFL pundits had high expectations for former first-round pick Clelin Ferrell. Selected with the No. 4 overall pick, the Raiders were enamored with Ferrell's ability to play multiple positions along the defensive line, and rush the quarterback from each of them. Even though the former Clemson Tiger experienced some rookie moments, there were plenty of times he flashed potential and demonstrated why he was worthy of a top-five selection.

In 15 starts, Ferrell totaled four-and-a-half sacks, five passes defensed — he's instinctually gifted at reading the quarterback's eyes — and one fumble recovery. Unfortunately, the NFL bases "success" on stats nowadays, which is why the 23-year-old was subjected to some unfair criticism. Coach Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther have the utmost belief in Ferrell and felt he did everything that was asked of him.

One of the group's biggest contributors, Benson Mayowa, departed in free agency this offseason after registering a career-high seven sacks. The Raiders addressed this void by signing four-year veteran Carl Nassib, who's totaled six-plus sacks in back-to-back seasons.

In addition to Nassib, Mayock and Gruden wanted to add depth and another big body in the middle of the line, so they pried defensive tackle Maliek Collins away from the Dallas Cowboys. Collins, unlike numerous players at his position, has the ability to get after the quarterback from the interior, totaling 14.5 sacks over four years. His presence in the middle should make life easier on Crosby and Ferrell since signal-callers won't be able to step up in the pocket to evade them.

The acquisitions of Nassib and Collins certainly improve the overall talent of the group, but arguably the biggest acquisition this offseason was that of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. The defensive mind is well respected as a defensive line coach for his ability to bring the most out of his unit while molding them and helping them enhance their craft. For the most part, the Raiders have a young defensive line group, and Marinelli is going to demand a lot of them.

As Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, and Arden Key enter their third season with the team, the Raiders coaching staff will be expecting them to compete at a high level this year. Together, the trio has totaled 12 sacks over two years. They each have the potential to be great and the hope is that Marinelli can help them make the leap in year three.

Bold Prediction

As I mentioned previously, the Raiders' defensive line is trending upward, but they still have a long way to go; however, I predict the group will increase their sack total by 10 from a year ago. In 2020, the group will amass 42 sacks and climb into the top 15 teams in sack total.

View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders defensive line heading into 2020 Training Camp. The defensive line is featured by second-year standouts Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, veteran Maurice Hurst and free-agent additions Maliek Collins and Daniel Ross.

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