Better, worse or the same? How the Las Vegas Raiders' defense has changed this offseason

HENDERSON, Nev. -- We've already gone over the Las Vegas Raiders' offensive groups, which should be the primary focus of new coach Josh McDaniels, given his acumen on that side of the ball. Defense, though, might be more intriguing in 2022.

A year after the Raiders had the No. 14 overall team defense under then-defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, McDaniels and new general manager Dave Ziegler revamped the unit with the arrival of new D.C. in Patrick Graham from the New York Giants, who had the, um, 21st-ranked total defense.

The Raiders have basically run a 4-3 base defense since Warren Sapp wore Silver and Black but Graham is more closely aligned with a 3-4. Still, as he and McDaniels say, nickel defenses have become more of the norm as a base defense. Of course, the goal of every team is to improve at every level, so these rankings, as well as those that came with the offense a few weeks back, come with a huge caveat with a new coaching staff and so many new faces.

Defensive line

Additions: Chandler Jones (Arizona Cardinals), Zach VanValkenburg (rookie free agent), Tyler Lancaster (Green Bay Packers), Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (rookie free agent), Matthew Butler (fifth-round draft pick), Bilal Nichols (Chicago Bears), Kyle Peko (Tennessee Titans), Neil Farrell Jr. (fourth-round draft pick), Vernon Butler (Buffalo Bills), Tashawn Bower (Minnesota Vikings), Andrew Billings (Kansas City Chiefs),

Losses: Yannick Ngakoue (Indianapolis Colts), Solomon Thomas (New York Jets), Quinton Jefferson (Seattle Seahawks), Gerald McCoy (free agent), Carl Nassib (free agent), Darius Philon (free agent), Damion Square (free agent)

Returners: Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Hankins, Malcolm Koonce, Gerri Green, Kendal Vickers

Better, worse or the same? Better

For the second time in as many years the Raiders have revamped their defensive line around rising star Crosby, who got paid to the tune of a four-year, $94 million extension in March and then got a new running mate -- also for the second year in a row -- in potential Hall of Fame edge rusher Jones. The Raiders essentially swapped Ngakoue, who is 27, for Jones, who is 32. Ferrell, a former No. 4 overall draft pick, did not have his fifth-year option picked up, so keep an eye on him during camp as either a trade piece or getting extended looks on the interior of Graham's 3-4 scheme.

The Raiders' 35 sacks a year ago were the 20th-most in the league, with all but 1.5 of them coming from the line. But the interior has also been rebuilt, with Nichols the big-ticket free agent signee and Las Vegas drafting Matthew Butler and Farrell. Graham's scheme and Jones' resume should make for an upgrade.


Additions: Micah Kiser (Denver Broncos), Jayon Brown (Titans), Kenny Young (Broncos), Kyler Fackrell (Los Angeles Chargers), Darien Butler (rookie free agent), Luke Masterson (rookie free agent)

Losses: Nick Kwiatkoski (Atlanta Falcons), Cory Littleton (Carolina Panthers), K.J. Wright (free agent), Nicholas Morrow (Bears), Marquel Lee (Bills), Kyle Wilber (free agent)

Returners: Divine Deablo, Denzel Perryman

Better, worse or the same? Better

It has to be better, no? Don’t answer that ... yet. Look, Las Vegas returns only two linebackers and one of them -- Perryman -- was a Pro Bowler. The key, then, is bringing in waves of guys to impart Graham's vision, guys who are already more than familiar with the scheme (Fackrell), as well as the division (Kiser, Young and Fackrell again).

A year ago, Deablo was the only real "addition." Now, he is one of the two returners. Rebuild, much? The respective playing histories of the unit suggest more of a 3-4 look. What else is new?


Additions: Rock Ya-Sin (Colts), Anthony Averett (Baltimore Ravens), Darius Phillips (Cincinnati Bengals), Bryce Cosby (undrafted rookie), Chris Jones (Titans), Cre'Von LeBlanc (Houston Texans), Sam Webb (undrafted rookie)

Losses: Casey Hayward Jr. (Falcons), Keisean Nixon (Packers), Desmond Trufant (free agent), Brandon Facyson (Colts)

Returners: Trayvon Mullen Jr., Nate Hobbs, Amik Robertson

Better, worse or the same? Worse

Too harsh? Stay with me here, because the Raiders essentially let their best cornerback go in Hayward (24 career INTS) and replaced him with a combination of Ya-Sin and Averett (five combined career picks). Advantage, Hayward ... for now. Plus, Mullen had a hard time staying on the field last season, appearing in just five games after playing in all 32 over the previous two seasons. This is a prove-it season for him, too, as he recovers from an undisclosed offseason surgical procedure.

All of the Raiders' league-low six interceptions last season came from the secondary, with six different players getting one apiece, including Hayward, Mullen and Hobbs, who was a revelation in the slot.


Additions: Duron Harmon (Falcons), Isaiah Pola-Mao (undrafted rookie), Qwynnterrio Cole (undrafted rookie)

Losses: None

Returners: Tre'von Moehrig, Johnathan Abram, Dallin Leavitt, Tyree Gillespie, Roderic Teamer

Better, worse or the same? Same

Abram, like fellow 2019 first-rounders Ferrell and running back Josh Jacobs, did not have his fifth-year option picked up. That was not unexpected, though an improvement in his pass coverage skills would be a bonus. Abram had one of the Raiders' interceptions last year but, for the second time in three years, failed to finish a season due to injury. Moehrig also had a pick and the duo was giving a split safety look in OTAs and minicamp. Interesting.

Harmon should push for snaps, as will Gillespie and Teamer. After all, it's essentially the same unit, right? It's a young group, one that, like the cornerbacks, would benefit greatly from an improved pass rush. At least, that's the plan.