Growth and development are the two common traits General Manager Dave Ziegler believes the team can get out of the two defensive tackles they drafted this year.
The Raiders decided to go back-to-back on interior defensive linemen with their fourth and fifth-round picks, selecting Neil Farrell Jr. out of LSU and Matthew Butler from Tennessee. The two versatile linemen were drafted to compete for a rotational, and possibly even a starting role in what is already a talented defensive line anchored by Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones.
"You want to draft players that are improving. Everybody is developing. College players, pro players, things of that nature," Ziegler said on drafting of the two. "But obviously you want to see a college player comes in at 18, 19 years old and you ideally want to see a player that has gradually improved their body, improved their football intelligence, have improved as players and kind of have had this upward trajectory.
"Having players that have done that, that's an attractive trait and you want to – you want guys that you can develop and grow, and when they've shown that they've done that at the college level, you have an anticipation you're going to be able to continue to go down that path with them once you get them on your team."
Having watched some college film on Farrell and Butler, here are a few positive things that jump out about their play.
Small things you can't teach
Something huge that I noticed watching Butler is not something measured by numbers, but more instinctual.
Butler seems likes he's always looking to punch the ball out on his tackles. While Butler notched two forced fumbles over his last two collegiate seasons, he appears to have the presence of mind to try to rip the ball out while finishing tackles.Yet while he's trying to create the turnover, he still doesn't lose sight of the main objective at hand – and that's finishing the tackle.
Overall while watching Butler, I believe you'll see a very disciplined player. Someone that does their job to the best of their ability and doesn't let emotions or technique deficiencies affect his level of play.
"In the game, it's almost zero mental because you just go from Sunday after the last game all the way to that Friday going in just pouring into yourself mentally," Butler said following the draft. "Whether it's tape or whether it's knowing that you may have made a mistake or two in games previous and going into practice and lift and film trying to ensure that what you're doing physically resonates to what mental aspects you want to take strides in."
If I had to use a word to describe Farrell, it would be shifty.
The defensive tackle is able to dominate on one-on-one blocking schemes against him not because he's the fastest, but he's deceptively quick. He has a good knack for using his leverage to pull out bull rushes or spin moves on opposing offensive lineman to get them off balance. His array of moves led to 22 tackles for loss in his career at LSU.
"Even though I feel like I played at a high level, I've still got things to work on and improve to get better every day like every other player in the world," Farrell Jr. said after being drafted. "But it's going to be fun."
The collective biggest strength between these two defensive tackles is their ability to shed blocks. And that's a big reason why the Las Vegas Raiders drafted them.
The team's run defense the past few seasons has statistically been subpar. With the arrivals of Josh McDaniels and Patrick Graham, they'll try to shape it up. And Farrell Jr. and Butler are two players that could give them the best opportunity to do that. The two big body tackles are capable are shooting inside gaps well and putting an end to run and pass plays before they can progress. The two combined had 10 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons.
Additionally, the running backs they've had to go up against in the SEC have been NFL caliber players, such as Pro Bowler Najee Harris, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D'Andre Swift and the Raiders' own Josh Jacobs and Zamir White. That's solid preparation for going up against some of the best running backs the NFL has to offer.
View the best photos from the third day of the Las Vegas Raiders' OTAs at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.