A lot has gone down since Summer '16.
Gus Bradley, in his final year as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, needed to bolster the Jags' defense after three consecutive dormant seasons. The franchise's first three picks in the 2016 NFL Draft were future All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and a young man out of Maryland named Yannick Ngakoue.
Ngakoue arrived in Jacksonville after setting Maryland's single-season sack record, and he promptly continued the same success, breaking the Jaguars' single-season rookie sack record with eight. Despite Ngakoue's stellar rookie season and the young talent around him on that defense, the Jaguars won three games that season. Bradley and Ngakoue left out soon after.
But both of them have found success since leaving Duval. Bradley helped lead the Chargers' defense to a 12-4 record in 2018, and Ngakoue recently stacked his fourth consecutive eight-plus sack season.
While much has changed for both men since 2016, they've reunited in the desert to finish a job they started five years ago across the country.
A huge reason behind Ngakoue's "no-brainer" signing with the Raiders this offseason was to play for the man that drafted him. He claims that while five years has passed, his defensive coordinator is still the same positive, high-energy "father figure."
"The thing that's really crazy to me is that he's the same guy," Ngakoue said recently. "If [anything], he has way more energy. He always was a high-energy guy, a guy that's personable, a great coach, and unfortunately in Jacksonville we didn't do what we were supposed to do to keep him there. But here, he's just putting us in great positions to make plays and allow us to be free."
"That's a guy that loves the game, brings passion every day no matter what's going on in his life. He's always going to have a smile on his face."
Bradley knew what he was getting in Ngakoue as an established pass rusher in this league. His goal is to get No. 91 on the same page with the rest of the defensive line and create what could potentially be the deepest group of pass rushers the Raiders have had in recent memory.
"Our philosophy is you can never have enough rushers," Bradley said. "Probably a lot of teams believe that, but I think we want to make sure we keep guys fresh."
Bradley's philosophy of putting Ngakoue alongside Maxx Crosby could prove to be very effective. Crosby has 17 sacks in his first two seasons in the league, the most of any player drafted in 2019. Ngakoue has racked up 16 sacks in the past two seasons, more than half of the Raiders' sack totals the past two seasons if you don't include Crosby's.
It’s the dedication and commitment. I can play all day with a guy like that. Yannick Ngakoue on playing with Maxx Crosby
"Obviously, we know guys, and we'd like to build it to, 'Hey, this is a critical time: Who's in the game? Well, whoever is hot. And whoever is fresh.' And if we can get to that mentality where it's by numbers, I think that's very, very important," continued Bradley. "But you got guys that are very skilled — guys like Yannick, Maxx Crosby. Those guys have proven that they are very, very good rushers in this league, and so to keep them fresh in critical times to have them at our services would be great."
"I think that Maxx and myself are the best duo that's going to come hit the scene," Ngakoue confidently said during minicamp. "I'm already putting that out there. I feel like the NFL has kind of shied away from that, and that's cool, but Maxx is a hard worker. He's a guy that's putting in the work.
"It's the dedication and commitment. I can play all day with a guy like that."