Raiders defensive depth chart after defensive overhaul

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Can Justin Tuck and the new Raiders defense bring the team back to competence?

Can Justin Tuck and the new Raiders defense bring the team back to competence?

 

This is now the second year in a row Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has been forced to undergo a complete defensive overhaul. This year however, the Raiders had the cap to target proven veterans, rather than veteran misfits on one year deals as we saw last year. Thus, in this article I will analyze the current Raiders defensive depth chart and how it effects their plans, especially in the draft. First, let’s look at last year’s depth chart.

Bold=was on team the year before

DE: Lamarr Houston (16 games/16 starts) (signed with Chicago Bears this off-season)

DT: Vance Walker (15 games/15 starts) (signed with KC Chiefs this off-season)

NT: Pat Sims (16 games/16 starts) (Re-signed with Raiders this off-season, 1 year)

DE: Jason Hunter (13 games/10 starts) (Unsigned UFA)

WLB: Kevin Burnett (16 games/16 starts)

MLB: Nick Roach (16 games/16 starts)

SLB: Sio Moore (16 games/16 starts)

CB: Tracy Porter (16 games/16 starts) (Signed with Redskins  this off-season)

CB: Mike Jenkins (15 games/15 starts) (Signed with TB Buccaneers  this off-season)

FS: Charles Woodson (16 games/16 starts at FS/SS) (Re-signed with Raiders, 1 year)

SS: Brandian Ross (16 games/15 starts at both FS and SS)

That’s right only ONE of those guys was a starter on the team last year (Tyvon Branch was out all season with injury FYI). This unit definitely had it’s ups and downs. As you could tell, the secondary was really a mess as teams collectively gave up the 5th most passing yards in the league with 4,092. In reality, this unit overachieved. On paper, it looks like a squad that would get murdered every game, but due to the great game planning and schematics by DC Jason Tarver, the team was able to be a good team against the run and really did better than they should have as a whole. Anyhow, it was still a talent-lacking, non-foundational unit, and McKenzie knew he needed to insert more talent, experience, and winning mentality into the mix. Thus, the following signings were made:

DE Justin Tuck (2 years)

DE LaMarr Woodley (2 years)

DT/DE Antonio Smith (2 years)

CB Tarrell Brown (1 year)

DT/DE CJ Wilson (no terms)

Re-signed FS/SS Usama Young (2 years)

This team did what was post important and that was improving their dreaded pass rush. Lamarr Houston was amazingly the Raiders best pass rusher, an aspect of his game he isn’t known for. DC Jason Tarver was forced to blitz just about every play as a result. The next step was improving the secondary. The biggest new guy we’ll see in 2014 is SS Tyvon Branch. The Raiders missed him greatly last season as Brandian Ross was terrible in his place. Also, the Raiders signed CB Tarrell Brown of the 49ers. He has been the Niners #1 CB on that stacked defense for a couple years now and has really played well. Unfortunately, he was unable to nab an INT last season, but had a whopping 12 pass deflections nonetheless. Still, he did take a step back from his terrific 2012 season where he had 3 INTs and 14 pass deflections. Regardless, he finished with a +7.0 PFF grade for the 2013 season. The Woodson re-signing was an obvious one as there was mutual interest from the beginning and he played very well for the Raiders, especially given the circumstances. A good under the radar signing I liked was the  Usama Young move. Young is the man who SHOULD have taken the place of Ross. He suffered an injury midway through the season. What I am assuming, is Reggie went back, looked at the tape. and saw Young was the superior player in limited action. Thus, he moved quickly to re-sign him and expect him to play a lot more next season as he improves the Raiders secondary. He finished with an impressive +2.2 pass coverage grade in limited snaps.

Now, most of the signings have come from the DL, so let’s take a close look at this.

Base Defense

DE: Justin Tuck

DT: Antonio Smith

NT: Pat Sims

DE: Lamarr Woodley

This is a solid base. You have you’re do it all man in Tuck who’s stout against the run and a good pass rusher. Then  you have you’re speed rusher in Woodley. Pat Sims is your space eater and penetrator in the run game. Finally, Antonio Smith is a great talent, who has good pass rushing technique and contributes against the run.

Run stopping unit

DE: Antonio Smith

DT: Pat Sims

NT: Stacy McGee/CJ Wilson

DE: Justin Tuck

-Stacy McGee is a second year player (6th rounder last year), who the Raiders (especially HC Dennis Allen) are very high on. He progressed as the season went on.

-CJ Wilson played 3-4 DE in Green Bay with Reggie and is a proven good run stopping DL, especially good on early downs.

Pass rushing unit:

DE: Lamarr Woodley

DT: Justin Tuck

DT: Antonio Smith

DE: Sio Moore/Player X

-I think the Raiders will draft a pass rusher in round one, that’s my speculation. This man will be Player X (Khalil Mack most likely). He will start as an SLB (him and Moore on the same field with Burnett rotating and Roach manning the middle will be awesome) in the “Von Miller role” in which Dennis Allen loves to execute. In pass rushing downs, he’ll play with his hands in the dirt as a DE. With that being said, I am not going to go into the draft, so let’s keep it at Sio Moore who played the position last year.

-Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith kicked inside will give the Raiders a terrific interior push. With Woodley on the outside this has the potential to be a dangerous pass rush.

While losing Lamarr Houston was rough, this is surely an improved unit. Expect improvements against the run, but most notably in terms of pass rushing. Now let’s look at the LB core:

WLB: Kevin Burnett

MLB: Nick Roach

SLB: Sio Moore

Same as last year and all three of these guys played well last year. I expect Sio Moore to progress mightily, while Burnett continues to be solid against the run. Nick Roach will resume his job as the QB/leader of the pact, as he’s solid in all phases of the game. The only change I could see here is if the Raiders draft Khalil Mack. Then Burnett will come in on run stopping downs, so he doesn’t have to be exposed in coverage.

Secondary:
CB: DJ Hayden

CB: Tarell Brown

SCB: ?

FS: Charles Woodson

SS: Tyvon Branch

The Raiders are expecting Hayden, last year’s first round pick, to step up his game greatly and evolve into the great CB they envisioned when they drafted him. The CB1 spot and SS spots are occupied nicely, while Raiders probably feel they can get one more productive year out of Woodson with Young subbing in. The biggest need is in the slot. Dennis Allen has stated the Raiders need to add another CB. This could certainly come through the draft, but one man to keep an eye on is free agent Carlos Rogers, formerly of the 49ers. Rogers played very well as the Niners CB1 in 2011, but declined in 2012, and was demoted to slot duties in 2013. He did play well in this spot however. Entering his age 33 season, he should come cheap and is another veteran with winning mentality and has a good relationship with Brown as well.

This is a big improvement over last year’s squad, especially if Hayden improves. The return of Branch is most enticing.

 

Overall, I don’t think the Raiders are done. They could add a few more depth pieces in FA, while also targeting several players via draft. Regardless, this is a much improved unit, and it gives DC Jason Tarver a lot more to work with. Another plus is the versatility of many of these guys in both 3-4 and 4-3 sets. HC Dennis Allen and DC Tarver have familiarity with both schemes so expect them to switch things up.