Maxx Crosby combines flash, maturity to emerge as Raiders' defensive leader

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Just over a year ago, Maxx Crosby was on the COVID-19 list, having just finished an offseason of treatment for alcoholism and living in isolation away from the Las Vegas Raiders while removing splinters from his hands after working on his pass-rush moves on a palm tree in his backyard.

Now? A happy, healthy and hearty Crosby is picking offensive linemen from his teeth, and the third-year defensive end is tooling around Sin City in a rather unusual and ubiquitous ride.

"Who the hell drives an orange Porsche?" coach Jon Gruden asked.

The answer: the just as unlikely spiritual leader of the Raiders' defense.

It has been quite the, ahem, ride for Crosby, an undervalued Day 3 pick of the Raiders out of Eastern Michigan in 2019 who racked up 10 sacks as a rookie, crossed over by garnering the attention and affection of funk music impresario Bootsy Collins, checked himself into rehab and added seven more sacks last season.

Crosby, a fourth-round draft pick at No. 106 overall, joined the Raiders with a target on him after general manager Mike Mayock compared him to Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks.

"Long, lanky, tall," Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com at the time. "I remember being very excited about seeing him on film and wondering about the competition [he faced at Eastern Michigan].

"But saying somebody is Ted Hendricks? That's tough. I've always said, if I had one guy to start a team, it would probably be Ted Hendricks. Remember, until we got Ted, we couldn't get over the hump in conference championship games. We got him in 1975 and then we broke through that wall. He's one of just [six] players to play on all three [Raiders] Super Bowl champs."

Former Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck, meanwhile, sees a different pass-rusher when he watches Crosby.

"He's not the fastest, he's not the strongest but his hand placement, he reminds me a lot of -- and I know I'm saying a lot when I say this -- he reminds me a lot of Jared Allen," Tuck said. "Jared was never faster than anybody. But he knew how to use his leverage and use his hands to get guys away from him and if that O-lineman was a reacher or a stabber or a wrapper, whatever you want to call him, he knew how to defeat that block.

"Now, he's not Jared Allen yet but I see some of the technique and some of that stuff that gets him across that edge that I saw with Jared."

Crosby, who turned 24 last week, just wants to be the best Maxx Crosby he can be. And having an elite pass-rusher bookending him in free-agent signee Yannick Ngakoue and commanding double- and triple-teams should allow more freedom and space for the oft-freelancing Crosby to operate.

Especially when Crosby and Ngakoue are competing, well, the most mundane of things.

"It starts with me and him," Crosby said. "We're all trying to get to the quarterback and all trying to prove ourselves in this league. A lot of people don't really talk about us at the end of the day so we've got to go out there and prove it and show that we're one of the best up-and-coming D-lines in the league.

"People that love football, it's a difference when you're competing over who's eating the best in the room. And who's got meal prep. ... It's little things like that, just the smallest things, that really make a difference. You can really see it in our D-line room, and you can see it trickle down through the whole team. It's special."

The previous two years, Crosby and Clelin Ferrell, the No. 4 overall pick of that 2019 draft, referred to themselves as Salt-N-Pepa. Ferrell, though, is now a backup, along with Carl Nassib, in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme that relies on waves of front-four pass rushers.

The Raiders were 29th in the NFL in sacks last season with 21, with 14.5 coming from edge rushers and almost half of those authored by Crosby.

"Four equals one at all time," Crosby said of the Raiders' front four.

And in Crosby, Bradley has a "different style of pass rusher" at his disposal.

"Asking our [offensive] tackles -- what’s the difference between going against a guy like Yannick and a Maxx and a Carl?" Bradley said.

“Maybe at times, Maxx is unorthodox, so they never quite know how he is going to rush and that creates a strain on them. He's leaner, he's faster, all those traits he has ... not only is he taking care of himself and really got a good mindset there, but just how he is helping the other guys. Him and Yannick have a unique relationship. ... It’s really cool to see how they are really pushing each other."

Neither Crosby nor Ngakoue played in the preseason, as the Raiders don't want to risk injury to their front-line players. Even as both need to show their mettle against the run, a purported strength of Ferrell.

But in the joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams, when ones went against ones, there was Crosby, in the middle of the fray, joking after Day 1 these days were exactly when you could sneak in a punch or two because no one was going to get fined or suspended.

And in regular camp practices, Crosby has taken to running sprints next to quarterback Derek Carr. Yes, to compete with the unquestioned face of the franchise. Even if it's just to see who can jump higher at the end of the run.

"Being a complete player, I want to be as disruptive as I possibly be and that's what I plan on doing this year," Crosby said. "Being a leader, I think that's the role that I feel natural at. I feel I could be a positive influence ... being a positive leader, being a ball of energy at all times. That's what I want to be and I want to lead the guys.

"I'm just being myself and having fun when I'm out there."

Yes, on the field as well as in his ride as Madd Maxx about Town.

"I pull in here and there's an orange Porsche, I know he's in there,” Gruden said. "I leave at night, and the orange Porsche is here. He's a weird guy. He's a fun guy. He's a helluva a football player and thank God we got him."

Ah yes, the orange Porsche.

As Crosby tells it, it was a splurge after sharing a car with his girlfriend as a rookie and laying relatively low last season. So he took Gaudin Porsche of Las Vegas up on their offer to come check out their stock.

"They had a white one, a black one and then they showed me this lava orange Cayenne Coup, 2021," Crosby said. "I'm like, 'That thing is sick.'

"They sat down with me and we customized it and, yeah, it's a bad-ass car. I don't care what anyone says. It's had mixed reviews, but it's different. Just like me. That's my inspiration. And, it matches my beard."

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter Nicholas Wagoner contributed to this report.