With training camp now inching closer and closer each day, today we take a look at how the Oakland Raiders defensive line is shaping up headed into 2017.
Led by the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, the defensive line as a whole will look to impart its will once the pads come on and the competition ratchets up. Now, let's take a look at Jethro Franklin's group, and see what to look for headed into the regular season.
2016 Recap (37 Tackles, 2.5 Sacks, Three Passes Defensed, Two Fumble Recoveries)
Autry's third season as a Raider was arguably his most productive.
His 2.5 sacks were just a half sack away from his career high, and his 27 tackles were eight more than he registered in 2016.
The imposing lineman has created a nice role for himself along the Raiders defensive front, and while his numbers might not jump off the page, Autry has consistently been a solid contributor regardless of where he lines up, particularly on special teams.
I figure 2017 will spell much the same for No. 96.
2016 Recap (Raiders Practice Squad)
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy joined the Silver and Black in mid-September, spending the entire season on the Raiders practice squad.
Headed into 2017, the rangy defensive end will have a year of experience in Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s scheme, and hopefully that familiarity will result in comfort and confidence, that in turn will lead him to a spot on the team's final roster.
For Bean, along with the other players lower of the depth chart, the preseason will be paramount in showing that he belongs.
2016 Recap (WITH OLE MISS REBELS: 39 Tackles, 6.0 Tackles For Loss, 2.5 Sacks)
Brown missed a portion of his 2016 season dealing with a foot injury, but when healthy, he was effective, finishing the season with 4.5 tackles for loss in the team's final four games.
Playing at Ole Miss, Brown routinely squared off against some of the best talent in college football, and while the NFL is a whole, different ballgame, Brown should be able to harken back on that experience once the team gets to work in Napa.
2016 Recap (WITH TEXAS LONGHORNS: 34 Tackles, 5.5 Tackles For Loss, 2.0 sacks)
Boyette spent the past five seasons in Austin, Texas, suiting up for the Longhorns.
His most productive season was his junior year where he tallied three sacks, two passes defensed, and one fumble recovery, and with 42 career games under his belt, Boyette, is likely one of the more experienced rookies the Raiders currently have on the roster.
Boyette tips the scales over 300 pounds, and using that size to his advantage will be crucial if he wants to find his way onto the Raiders final roster.
2016 Recap (WITH FAULKER EAGLES: 60 Tackles, 14.5 Tackles For Loss, 8.5 Sacks, Five Forced Fumbles)
After beginning his college career at Florida State, Casher spent 2016 with the Faulkner Eagles.
During his lone season in Mobile, Ala., Casher was incredibly effective, as his 8.5 sacks led the team, and he was also named First-Team All-Mid-South Conference at year's end.
Now, to be fair, the level of competition that the Eagles were facing wasn't similar to what Casher was seeing in the ACC, but regardless, his 2016 numbers were impressive.
Casher no doubt has the pedigree to be a productive NFL player, and he's going to be an interesting under-the-radar guy to watch once the pads come on at training camp.
Mario Edwards Jr.
2016 Recap (Four Tackles)
Edwards missed a majority of his second season in Silver and Black after suffering a hip injury in the team's preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Edwards eventually returned for the Raiders finally two regular season games, and subsequent playoff bout with the Houston Texans, providing a nice jolt to the interior rush of the defensive line.
Headed into 2017 – Edwards' third as a Raider – he'll once again be looked at to provide some interior rush, and be another, dynamic rusher to hopefully alleviate some pressure away from Khalil Mack.
When healthy, Edwards has shown to be a dynamic playmaker, and I think that 2017 will be a big year for No. 97.
2016 Recap (29 Tackles)
Once again, Ellis appeared in all 16 games for the Silver and Black, finishing his third year as a Raider with 29 total tackles.
Listed at 334 pounds, Ellis will be looked at in 2017 to again be stout against the run, and provide a little bit of an interior rush.
The big man from Monroe, La., has been a consistent force for the Silver and Black, and the team will look to him once again to be a force in the middle of the line.
2016 Recap (WITH TOLEDO ROCKETS: 39 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles For Loss, Five Sacks, One Pass Defensed, One Fumble Recovery, One Forced Fumble.)
General Manager Reggie McKenzie used his final selection in the 2017 NFL Draft on the defensive tackle from Toledo.
Hester showed promise during his career as a Rocket, and he'll be a player I'll be keeping an eye on throughout the preseason, in particular to see how Norton works him into the defensive rotation.
*2016 Recap (Two Tackles)
The former Texas Tech Red Raider spent most of his rookie season on the Raiders practice squad before being elevated to the active roster on December 3.
In total, Jackson appeared in three games, and he'll once again have to battle for his spot on the roster come training camp.
One thing that he has working in his favor though is versatility, as he can line up at numerous spots along the defensive front.
2016 Recap (17 Tackles, Two Passes Defensed)
The undrafted rookie appeared in 14 games for the Raiders in 2017.
Headed into Year 2, Latham will look to build on his solid 2016 campaign, so he'll be another player I'll be watching, mainly to see if he can take the next step forward in his professional development.
2016 Recap (77 Tackles, 11 Sacks, One Interception, One Touchdown, Four Passes Defensed, Five Forced Fumbles, Three Fumble Recoveries. Pro Bowl Selection. Associated Press First Team All-Pro. AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.)
Dominant, otherworldly, powerful, transcendent, pick whatever adjective you please; plain and simple, Mack was the best defensive player in the NFL last year.
Mack was a one-man-wrecking crew, imparting his will seemingly whenever he felt like it, and making life incredibly difficult for opposing quarterbacks and defensive coordinators.
Now headed into his fourth season, and still just 26 years old, it's scary to think there's likely still room for him to get even better in the years to come.
2016 Recap (31 Tackles, One Fumble Recovery)
Ward appeared in all 16 games during his rookie campaign, making 13 starts in the process.
Throughout 2016, Ward proved to be a versatile piece along the Raiders defensive line, spending time at both tackle and end.
Coaches typically say that the sign of a good player is to see a big jump in his second season, so hopefully Ward can make just that, and enjoy an even more productive 2017.
2016 Recap (WITH UCLA BRUINS: 29 Tackles, 1.5 Sacks)
After wrapping up his college career at UCLA, Vanderdoes was selected by the Raiders in the third round (No. 88 overall) of this year's NFL Draft.
However, because UCLA is on the quarter system, Vanderdoes was unable to participate in nearly all of the Offseason Workout Program, making him a bit of an unknown commodity headed into training camp.
Vanderdoes showed during his career as a Bruin that he can be an incredibly productive player, and I'm excited to see what he looks like once the pads come on, and he gets a chance to gel with his new teammates.
Storyline To Follow:
The good news? Khalil Mack was an absolute monster last year, wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks, finishing the year with 11 sacks in the process.
However, the Silver and Black finished the year ranked No. 32 in total sacks, tallying 25 by season's end.
So, the question now becomes; where does a complementary pass rush come from in 2017?
Will Mario Edwards emerge as another viable option along the defensive front, or will a rookie or second-year player break through, effectively taking some pressure off of No. 52 in the process?
As dominant as Mack has been, giving him a little room to breathe will only pay positive dividends for the Raiders defense as a whole, so seeing who steps up to the plate – pardon the baseball pun – to fill that role is something I'll be looking forward to watching develop.