From rehab to the Pro Bowl: Raiders' Maxx Crosby reflects on nearly two-year journey

Maxx Crosby made his Pro Bowl this year in large part due to the constant pressure he brings, as Crosby rates as one of the best in the NFL in pressure analytics. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

HENDERSON, Nev. -- His voice cracked first. Then his eyes reddened and moistened.

Maxx Crosby, a few hours after being told he was named to his first career Pro Bowl, was overcome with emotion and, well, memories as recent as they were painful.

"I was in rehab almost, like, two years ago, and now I'm in the Pro Bowl," said Crosby, the Las Vegas Raiders' popular and effective defensive end Monday night after his team survived a bout with the COVID-ravaged Cleveland Browns.

"It's just a blessing, man. I show up and I try to be the best teammate ..."

Crosby paused.

"I try to be the best teammate every day and show my guys that I care," he continued. "That s--- just hit home, man. It's special. It makes my family proud, my girl. Everybody around me is calling and blowing up my phone."

Crosby laughed.

"I'm crying like a baby because I just know I've worked so hard," he added, "and it's starting to pay off."

Crosby, the Raiders' whirling dervish fourth-round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2019 who reminded owner Mark Davis and general manager Mike Mayock of Raiders Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks, found clarity after his rookie season. As he told ESPN in August, that's when he checked himself into rehab for a one-month stay, saying "alcoholism runs in my family and I'm an alcoholic."

March will mark two years of sobriety for him and the irony, he said, is that his best season sack-wise was his rookie season, when he racked up 10 sacks.

But he was also racking up mileage on his body off the field. Hence, the need for change.

And when the Raiders moved from Oakland to Las Vegas last year, he contracted COVID-19 and was reduced to quarantining at his desert home during camp, practicing pass-rush moves on a solitary palm tree in his backyard and picking out splinters after his sessions.

This camp, he was named a team captain by his brethren, another step in his march to sobriety and clarity. And as interim coach Rich Bisaccia noted, while saying he did not want to get emotional when talking about it, that was "monumental" in Crosby's journey.

"It certainly showed that he had the power of example that others wanted to follow," Bisaccia said, before transitioning into Crosby's football production. Because as Crosby himself said, he only has five sacks this season.

"What [he's] teaching people to do is look beyond the numbers," Bisaccia added. "Look at the relentless effort that the guy plays with every game and look at the relentless effort that he puts into practice. So, he has become the power of example in a lot of ways. The other thing that he's done a tremendous job of in his time here is because of the things he's gone through, and [tight end] Darren Waller has done this as well, they're speaking out. They feel like if they can help one person, if they can just get to somebody, not only on our team, but on the outside, both of them have done both, with our team and with people on the outside."

No doubt life is more important than on-the-field accolades. But getting his life in order has enabled him to attain said accolades. Because as Crosby pointed out, his five sacks rank just 50th in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, has Crosby turning in an All-Pro season with its analytics.

Entering Monday's game at Cleveland, Crosby was leading all edge rushers in pressures (78) and was tied for first in pass rush win percentage (25.8%) and was second in PFF grade (90.9) and pass rush grade (91.8). That pressure has been helpful for the Raiders (7-7), who host the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) in a must-win game if they hope to stay in the playoff hunt.

Crosby is one of three Raiders named to the NFL's all-star game, which will be played in Vegas on Feb. 2, along with Denzel Perryman, the Raiders' first middle linebacker Pro Bowler since Matt Millen in 1988, and AJ Cole, who joins Shane Lechler and Hall of Famer Ray Guy as Raiders punters so selected.

The last Raiders Pro Bowl edge rusher picked? Guy by the name of Khalil Mack, and we all know how that ended up. With the Raiders having already given extensions to quarterback Derek Carr, guard Gabe Jackson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and receiver Seth Roberts, Mack -- the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year -- held out in 2018 rather than play under his fifth-year option worth $13 million. The Raiders traded him to the Chicago Bears.

Las Vegas might face a similar dilemma this offseason, with Carr only having one year left on the five-year, $125 million deal he signed in 2018 and Crosby's four-year rookie contract also expiring after the 2022 season.

But with so much uncertainty facing the Raiders this coming offseason -- New G.M.? New coach? New QB? -- Crosby has been a steadying influence on the defensive line and gave credit to veteran D-line coach Rod Marinelli.

"He pushes me every day," Crosby said. "He pushes me every day to be the best, best player I can be. And I want to kill him sometimes. He wants to kill me. He wants to kill me."

Crosby laughed again.

"But he just wants the best for me," he said. "He knows what I want; I want to be the best in the league and he pushes me to be that guy every day."

Said Marinelli on Crosby's growth: "It's like watching the Grand Canyon grow. It took a million years before it was finished and its the same way as a player. It's slowly evolving, day by day. Then when you look back, you say, 'Woah, man, has he grown.' It's that type of process and he's been very diligent at it ... to see him grow, he's come million miles away from last year. Day by day."

Which brings us back to where we started -- a grateful and stunned Crosby trying to absorb it in the bowels of a stadium on Lake Erie.

"I just put in so much work," he said. "For having my teammates, my peers, people, coaches around the league, it's a dream come true. It's awesome. Individual awards are cool, but something like that, you think about that as a kid ... I just want to show people out there it's not all about stats.

"It's your impact in the locker room, it's your impact on the field. Affecting the game, no matter what stats I get. I believe I do that every single Sunday and that's what I try to do. Yeah, it was super special, for sure."