Next up in our Position Review series, we take a look at the Oakland Raiders defensive line.
Unsurprisingly led by defensive end Khalil Mack, while the Silver and Black's line did have its ups and downs in 2017 – much like the team as a whole – there were no doubt some positives to take away from last year's effort.
Let's recap what the group did in 2017, from the edge rushers on the outside, to the big fellas on the inside.
*James Cowser who is listed as a linebacker/defensive end is included in this review.
Overview:Fair or unfair, a defensive line is often judged by how effectively it gets after the opposing quarterback, and in 2017, the Silver and Black struggled to do just that, finishing the year with just 31 sacks.
That number was good for 24th in the NFL, which, for a defensive line that boasts Khalil Mack, is admittedly on the low side.
To be fair though, No. 52 certainly took care of business on his end, finishing his fourth season with a team-high 10.5 sacks, earning Pro Bowl honors at year's end for the third season in a row.
For much of the season, Mack's running mate on the outside was Bruce Irvin, and with eight sacks to his name in 2017, No. 51 put together a nice year in his own right (we'll look closer at Irvin's season when we review the Raiders linebackers).
The interior of the line was patrolled by a rotation of players, including Denico Autry and Justin "Jelly" Ellis – who each played in all 16 regular season games – as well as Mario Edwards Jr., who made 14 appearances, and set a career-high with three-and-a-half sacks.
Darius Latham appeared in three games last year, playing sparingly, while Jihad Ward appeared in five, totaling his lone sack of the season in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Cowser also played in 16 games, contributing mostly on special teams.
Much like the Raiders secondary, the defensive line welcomed some fresh faces in 2017, as General Manager Reggie McKenzie drafted Eddie Vanderdoes in the fourth round of the Draft, while also picking up Treyvon Hester out of Toledo in the seventh round.
Hester appeared in 14 games during his rookie outing, while Vanderdoes appeared in all 16, but after tearing his ACL in the Raiders regular season finale, the timeline for his return to the gridiron is still to be determined.
The Number To Know:17.
Khalil Mack *loves *December.
Since 2014, Mack has 17 tackles in the month of December, more than any other player in the NFL.
Going Forward:Alright, here are my two big questions headed into 2018 as far as the defensive line is concerned:
- Will Denico Autry be in Silver and Black once again in 2018? 2. When will we see Eddie Vanderdoes back doing his thing along the interior of the defensive line?
Autry is scheduled to hit free agency this March, on the heels of his most-productive season as a pro. His five sacks were a career-high, and while his statistics might not compare to Mack's, Autry was around the ball week after week, and was a valuable, consistent contributor both on defense and special teams.
As far as Vanderdoes is concerned, the powerful rookie no doubt had his ups and downs in 2017, which is to be expected of a first-year player, but when big No. 94 was rocking, he showed that he was a big, strong man, capable of imparting his will on an offensive front. As unfortunate as it is, injuries are part of the game, so I'll be keeping a close eye on the UCLA Bruin to see when he's able to get back to work, and how effective he is when he returns.
Also, make sure you keep an eye on Ellis; the big defensive tackle is also set to become a free agent, and James Cowser who will be an Exclusive-Rights Free Agent at the start of the league year.
MVP Of The Position Group:Khalil Mack, with Denico Autry earning the honorable mention nod.
Look, I'm not sure why, but people seem to forget just how good No. 52 is week after week. He's one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, and not only that, I truthfully don't think there's a player in the league who's better at stopping the run than the Raiders dynamic defensive end.
Mack is an absolute monster along the line, simple as that, and once again, he was the best Raider at that spot in 2017.
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