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Zo Huddle
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FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Raiders Final Roster Evaluations- Defensive Ends

Franchise Sports Media

It’s time to start thinking about the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders from who to keep, who to build around, all the way to where the most help is needed. Zo Huddle now plans to evaluate each position group of the Silver and Black, beginning first with the guys lined up across from the offensive tackles. 

 

We have gone straight to the post huddle here.

The Las Vegas Raiders’ season has ended at 8-8 overall after the thrilling 32-31 road win over the Denver Broncos. But the new season begins: Evaluating for 2021.

Instead of breaking down past plays (rebuttal, I’ll probably compartmentalize one or two in these series of breakdowns), Zo Huddle will take a deep dive into each position group and ask the five who’s…

Who stood out, who needs improvement, who stays, who goes, and who needs to come over to Sin City.

Defense goes first in this Zo Huddle roster breakdown. It is the unit largely responsible for the Raiders’ late-season collapse from lack of a pass rush, limited takeaways to removing the defensive coordinator before the season ended.

We are going to the trenches first by starting with the guys on the edge:

 

The bookends

 

No. of defensive ends who saw action: Eight

Who took the most snaps: Maxx Crosby, 904 total

Best pass rusher: Crosby, 7.0

Best tackler: Crosby, 39 tackles (20 solo), for an average of 2.43 per game.

 

Maxx potential?

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: KMBC Kansas City

Statistically, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Crosby put up decent numbers. But it’s considered a step back from his 2019 campaign that saw him reach double-digit sacks.

Crosby, though, gets this pass from me: He commanded more attention from opposing offensive line coaches and offensive coordinators with little help along the Raiders’ interior.

Facing dual blockers and playing in more than 80% of the snaps on the field for 16 consecutive games will lead to wear and tear. Especially when there is a lack of an equal impactful presence next to Crosby. His head coach himself admitted Crosby was getting overworked.

“He’s (Maxx Crosby) probably getting a little worn down, and he’s getting a lot of attention,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said to reporters on Dec. 21, 2020. “Getting chipped, getting the tight end that way to nudge him on the way out. It’s been tough for him.

“We haven’t had a real consistent inside rush, which is tough on edge rushers. That’s an area we need to improve, but I love Crosby. I love his effort, and he’s got a great amount of football character. He’s going to be a really good Raider for years to come.”

 

Help wanted opposite of No. 98

 

Zo Huddle
Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Outside of Crosby was considered disastrous for the Raiders’ edge personnel from injuries to positive COVID-19 tests to inconsistency.

Former first-rounder Clelin Ferrell was limited to 12 games after battling the Coronavirus, yet still took 461 snaps. Ferrell showed some flashes of potential – a la the New York Jets game – but his two sacks meant that he successfully got to the quarterback at only 0.43% of the plays he had.

Carl Nassib took the second-most snaps on the line at 463 total – including 41 in the win over the Denver Broncos. However, his future and $7.5 million salary are beginning to look nebulous due to reports of poor practice habits and a benching against the Jets.

Arden Key finished three of his last five games by tallying two tackles and collected 13 total stops in 13 games. Key, however, is unfortunately known for grabbing the facemask of Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in the final seconds of the last-minute collapse versus the Dolphins. It didn’t help, too, that Key went through the whole season without a sack. And the third-year pro was on the field during more than 250 pass-rushing situations the Raiders faced.

Elsewhere, Kendal Vickers – in his return to the NFL after a year in Canada with the Edmonton Eskimos – ended the 2020-21 season with two sacks while seven-year veteran Chris Smith closed his season with five tackles and one sack.

The final group of bookends who saw action were David Irving (two tackles versus the Broncos in the finale, but also dealt with COVID-19), Datone Jones (played 27 snaps versus the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 11, his only night of action), and Vic Beasley (signed after being released by the Tennessee Titans, logged five games of action).

Overall, Crosby was the most consistent and overworked member of the Raiders bookends.

Who likely stays: Crosby, Ferrell, and Irving

Crosby needs help. Ferrell needs a motivational boost, and considering Irving saw extensive playing time in the season-ending contest, maybe the Raiders will grant the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder another year for depth purposes.

Who likely goes: Nassib, Key, and Beasley

Nassib clearly needs a fresh start somewhere outside of Vegas, given his inconsistent habits before Sundays, Key has been a disappointment for the Raiders with just three sacks in three seasons, and Beasley could be the one out of the three who possibly has the best chance to stay. The late acquisition played in five contests with the Titans before coming over to the Raiders. Perhaps his fellow Clemson Tiger Ferrell and the Death Valley representation on the Raiders’ roster could reward Beasley another season. But time will tell.

 

Who needs to come on board

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

For the Raiders to improve their porous pass rush showing in 2020, they will need to hit the draft hard and select multiple defensive ends.

Las Vegas is currently slotted at No. 17 overall in the first round and have two more picks in the first 100 selections (No. 48 and No. 81). The Raiders have been aggressive before on draft day by making trades and adding extra first-rounders.

The defense has got to be the top priority after canning Paul Guenther and going defensive coordinator hunting this offseason.

It’s either an athletic linebacker, ball-hawking safety, or pass-rushing specimen who goes first for the Raiders. But which defensive ends are appealing to Las Vegas?

 

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) country has edge options.

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: 24/7 Sports

Jaelan Phillips of the University of Miami will surely generate a lot of intrigue. He’s listed as a second-rounder, but in breaking down his game, he has the look of a possible mid-to-late first-rounder. He’s rekindled his interest in football after battling injuries at UCLA and briefly retiring from football before having the itch to return. The 6-foot-5, 266-pounder has the snap explosion, the flexibility to bend the hips against blockers, and powerful hand movement to dominate the line of scrimmage.

His upper body strength, foot burst, and strong hands equally make him effective as an inside rushing option on third and long scenarios with his ability to power and knife inside. His explosion off the ball and background as a quarterback chaser should make him appealing for the Raiders and potentially form a strong trio with Crosby and Ferrell.

I’m honestly liking Carlos Basham Jr. of Wake Forest the more I watch his reel. Even during a truncated 2020, Basham Jr. got five sacks in six games but has collected 20.5 sacks in his last 30 collegiate games. At 6-foot-5, 275-pounds, and with inside rush moves, the Raiders can additionally plug him at defensive tackle during third and longs with Crosby and Ferrell still on the field.

Basham Jr. has the sack production against QB’s. He can still learn more trench moves, but he has the look of a second or third-rounder. Among the QB’s he sacked? Projected No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, potential first-rounder Sam Howell, and 2020 first-rounder Jordan Love.

Patrick Jones II of Pittsburgh rounds out the ACC trio I have pinpointed. Like Basham, his sack totals improved each season. He’s got a quick burst off the ball and comes with four hand moves: The long arm, the swim move, the dip-and-rip, and the club. One thing I respect out of Jones, though, is his refusal to have the deer-in-the-headlights look when guards/tackles pull block toward him. He maintains his depth in the backfield, takes on the incoming blocker, and helps clog the lane.

Jones will have to be better about not exposing his chest against blockers as he tends to get easily controlled at the point of attack. But he’s a strong and quick prospect who could be a steal in the third or fourth round for someone. Watch the Boston College game as an example of Jones‘ speed and energy. If he’s available, the Raiders shouldn’t hesitate to draft him.

 

Sleeper alert from Conway, South Carolina 

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Coastal Carolina University

One possible sleeper for the Raiders: Tarron Jackson of Coastal Carolina.

The Chanticleers were one of the feel-good stories of this COVID-19 college football season as they cracked the Top 25 – and Jackson was a major cornerstone on the CC defense. At 6-foot-2, 266-pounds, he doesn’t possess the length of the aforementioned ACC DE’s or the Raiders’ current batch of edge guys. But he has a Tasmanian Devil-like energy equipped with a nose for the football. He can force fumbles or interceptions with his edge speed and relentless pursuit to the ball. With his line burst and consistency in sinking his hips while rushing, he’s gotten offensive tackles blocking him one-on-one to trek backwards and lose the battle to Jackson.

He had three games of two sacks, plus played on a Chanticleers defense that handed potential first-round QB, Zach Wilson, one of his worst nights of the season: Bottling him to just one TD pass (his only game with just one aerial score) and handing him a season-worst QB rating of 68.1 in the 22-17 upset, including holding the high-powered Cougars offense to just three second-half points.

 

Post huddle

 

Raiders vs Chiefs
Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

You’re in a division with the face of the league and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes. Now you have to worry about Justin Herbert for years to come. Denver could likely be all in on a first-round QB come April.

Outside of the AFC West, there’s Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Tua Tagovailoa representing the young fast-rising signal-callers of the league, all of whom are in the same conference as Las Vegas.

Wanted: A pass rush. More of it.

And the collapsing of pockets begins on the edge. The Raiders need enhancements to send help for the likes of Crosby and Ferrell.

 

 

Next Zo Huddle: Evaluating the defensive tackles and where the Raiders could go from there.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna

 

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