Up next in our Position Battle series, we take a look at the big fellas up front for the Oakland Raiders; the defensive line.
When you're talking about the pass rushers for the Silver and Black, you have to start that conversation with Khalil Mack, but outside of No. 52, the defensive line for the Raiders in 2018 is going to be an incredibly interesting group to watch.
That being said, let's take a look, from top to bottom, at the guys who will be tasked with taking down the opposing quarterback on game days this year.
*players listed as both defensive end, defensive lineman, AND defensive tackle are included in this Position Battle.
Mario Edwards Jr.
Arden Key (rookie)
Maurice Hurst (rookie)
P.J. Hall (rookie)
While General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Jon Gruden completely retooled the Raiders roster this offseason, the team's defensive line actually stayed pretty intact from the one a year ago.
Yes, Denico Autry bolted to Indianapolis to join the Colts in free agency, but outside of his departure, most of the team's heavy hitters from a year ago are back in the mix in 2018.
Now, to be fair, there are a lot of new faces in Mike Trgovac's group; defensive line was obviously a priority in the draft for the Silver and Black, and the team took three linemen over the course of the three-day event, while also adding even more depth through free agency.
Yes, Khalil Mack is hands down the face of this defensive line, but with a plethora of talented players currently on the roster, this is a group that you should be excited to watch grow this year.
Reviewing the Oakland Raiders defensive lineman going into 2018 Training Camp.
Battle to Watch:
Eddie Paskal: I'm going to have my eye on the trio of rookies that we mentioned earlier, P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst, and Arden Key, to see which one of them really solidifies themselves in Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther's rotation.
I'm well aware that Aden Key in particular will be asked to do different things defensively than both Hall and Hurst, but seeing which of these three young guys really makes the most of his chances in training camp and the preseason is going to be something I'm excited to watch develop.
Even though the defensive line is anchored by Khalil Mack, and if all goes to plan, he'll once again feast on opposing quarterbacks, but these new guys are going to be asked to produce, so I'll keeping an eye on that trio in particular.
Kyle Martin: The Raiders added a bevy of depth to the defensive line in the NFL Draft this year, selecting defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall, along with defensive end Arden Key. The group have shown that they're a talented bunch, and I think they'll make an impact on the interior defensive line, particularly Hurst and Hall.
With former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin slated to start on the edge, the interior is up for grabs. Veteran defensive tackle Justin Ellis has been productive during his four seasons with the team, and he'll certainly compete with the younger players during Training Camp. Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie want to create competition at every position, and the addition of Hall and Hurst will do just that.
Hurst had first-round talent, but due to medical reasons he dropped to the fifth-round; however, the former Michigan Wolverine is one to keep your eye on. Hurst has impressed a lot of his peers, and coaches in the early going.
Storyline to Follow:
EP: For me, it's pretty simple; which of these pass rushers really comes into his own and provides a true complement to Khalil Mack? Look, it's no secret that this defensive line – and honesty, probably this defense in general – is going to go as far as No. 52 takes it. Mack is an elite talent, and the big fella puts up dominant numbers even when he's routinely double or triple teamed.
That being said, if you look at the teams in the NFL that are the most effective at getting after the quarterback, they have multiple dudes who can rush the passer.
I firmly expect Bruce Irvin to be his usual, disruptive self yet again in 2018, but since he's technically listed as a linebacker right now, we're not going to talk about him too much in those Position Battle segment.
Anyway, I digress.
Khalil Mack is an absolute monster, yes, but he's going to need a little help navigating the offensive lines of the AFC West; let's see who's going to be the Robin to his Batman.
KM: The development of the rookies will be the talk of camp in my opinion.
Gruden and McKenzie have expressed their enthusiasm about the 2018 draft class, noting a lot of explosive capabilities, especially from the trio of Hurst, Hall, and Key. It's no secret the Raiders defense has struggled the last few years, but I think these three can be difference makers. Rookies are always intriguing for myriad reasons, but mainly ebecause the transition from the college level to the pros.
Each boast tremendous upside, and have showcased their potential in practice already. It's redundant, but I know they haven't thrown the pads on yet, which is why I think following their progress during camp will be the main storyline.
Keep an Eye on…
EP: Maurice Hurst is my guy for this one.
First things first, the former Michigan Wolverine was absolutely dominant during his career in Ann Arbor, and the fact that the Silver and Black were able to snag him in the fifth round borders on criminal.
Seriously though, over the past few years, as good as the Raiders edge rush has been, at times there has been a need for the interior rush to step up and produce at a high level as well.
Well, Hurst made his hay as a Wolverine doing just that, and while college and the NFL are two, entirely different beasts, if all goes to plan, the big defensive tackle will hopefully fill that void.
Hurst is talented, motivated, and comes into 2018 with a chip on his shoulder. That's a dude I can root for.
KM: Arden Key – the guy is a beast.
Explosive, raw, violent, tenacious, whatever adjective you want to use to describe Key, it'll fit his description. Throughout Rookie Minicamp and Mandatory Minicamp the former LSU Tiger was all gas, no brake. At 6'6" and 265 pounds, Key is a force to be reckoned with.
During his three years at LSU, the 22 year old racked up 20 sacks, four passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, and 129 tackles. After his sophomore season, Key could've been a first-round talent had he declared for the NFL Draft, but he opted to return to LSU for his junior season. Now a member of the Silver and Black, I think Key can take the next step in his development. With Mack and Irvin to help mentor him, his raw talent can turn into something special.
MORE POSITION BATTLES: