How Does The Las Vegas Raiders Defense Improve In 2021?

Phil Robinson III
season prediction

With the 2020 inaugural season in Las Vegas coming to a merciful end for the Raiders, one question looms large: How do they improve the Raiders defense? We look at some ways that make sense.

No matter what the end result of the 2020 season, fans and the organization were able to measure the Las Vegas Raiders defense from top to bottom and assess what needs to be done to improve.

And there’s lots of work to be done.

The harsh reality of the solution to improve the Raiders defense boils down to them getting the most out of their young talent plus adding veterans who can help speed up the improvement process. During the course of the first two weeks of the NFL playoffs, Raider Nation has seen several former players who couldn’t develop in the silver and black do so elsewhere and contribute to winning football. While that’s a tough reminder, the Raiders have current players who have a wealth of talent and harnessing that ability and getting the most out of it is key to the team’s success.

Let’s take a look at specifically what the Raiders need to do in order to focus on turning the defense around in 2021.

Player Development

raiders injuries Damon Arnette
Damon Arnette is a talented young player who needs good coaching and development too reach his potential in the NFL.

The Raiders have invested 14 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball since the arrival of Jon Gruden in 2018. When looking at the reasons why the defense has struggled, look no further than not being able to develop these draft picks fast enough. Is Paul Guenther to blame or is this on Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock?

Mayock’s ability to scout and dictate the Raiders draft strategy led to players who do have incredible physical abilities. However, making the adjustment from college player to professional athlete is a huge jump and several of the Raiders selections have had trouble doing so thus far. The adjustment to the speed and physicality of the NFL, doubled with playing in the NFL’s newest and most exciting market of Las Vegas, isn’t easy and has proven hard for the 2020 class thus far.

In an up and down inconsistent season, the defense showed it was capable of containing any offense. It also put out a lot of really bad film. The good news is a majority of the issues the Raiders have defensively are correctable and the talent of 2020 selections like Damon Arnette have the skills to be a good NFL player. To get the most out of these young players, the Raiders need the right teacher and the right approach.

Wanted: Football Sensei

Ron Milus Las Vegas Raiders
New Raiders DB coach Ron Milus is one of the best in the business and was the perfect pick to work with the Raiders young players.

Gus Bradley, the Raiders new defensive coordinator, is an accomplished no-nonsense coach with an impressive resume. In five of Bradley’s eight seasons as a defensive coordinator, his units have been Top 15 in points allowed (four of those seasons they have been Top 10), ranked Top 10 in passing yards allowed, and Top 15 in passing touchdowns, and interceptions. In four seasons his rushing defense has been ranked Top 15 in yards and rushing touchdowns. He has worked wonders developing young secondaries and had a major role in creating “The Legion of Boom” with the Seattle Seahawks.

Rookie Damon Arnette and second-year corner Trayvon Mullen have the raw physical skills to be good corners in this league. Isaiah Johnson’s football origins are very similar to Richard Sherman’s and is a former wide receiver converted into a defensive back. He’s a bigger corner, solidly built, has a decent trail technique, and plays completely through the catching process. Jonathan Abram’s first full season of action saw plenty of electrifying hits, but it also exposed a coverage deficiency and lack of focus.

Bradley, has developed secondary players such as Sherman, Casey Heyward, Desmond King II, AJ Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Derwin James, and Joseph Addae. While the Raiders and Bradley have some talent on the field in need of development there are spots in need of attention.

With Bradley bringing along defensive backs coach Ron Milus to Las Vegas, it seems as the Raiders have exactly the combination they need to get the most of their talent and recognize the promise they saw when they drafted their young defensive backend.

Veterans and Rookies

Leonard Williams Las Vegas Raiders
Leonard Williams would be a nice addition to the Raiders defensive interior for 2021.

The Raiders Defensive interior and the defensive line as a whole is a unit in need of a major upgrade. Rod Marinelli replaced Brentson Buckner as defensive line coach and statistically speaking, the line actually got worse. Between injury, sophomore slumps, COVID losses, and a lack of overall quality depth, the line has underperformed and been inadequate.

There are quite a few defensive linemen in the draft worth taking a look at, but what the Raiders and Bradley absolutely must have is a proven commodity. A player capable of dominating the line of scrimmage, taking the quarterback down hard, and wreaking havoc at the point of attack. They need a few of these guys which cannot be debated. If Maliek Collins was the key to the defense, it should come as no surprise they were lacking all season long. Collins was not the answer and Jonathan Hankins hasn’t made much of an impact up the middle.

While developing talent is a necessity on the defensive line as well, the Raiders need those proven commodities and those must come in free agent or trade acquisitions.

The Raiders have to stop bargain shopping on defense and put together a package including picks and/or players to trade for a premium defensive interior producer. The Raiders defense has to be the focus of the largest and most focused amount of resources this offseason. Of course, they could also pursue proven players like New York Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Either way, the Raiders have a clock that is running to put together a championships team with an offense that is young and producing. To wait on one or two more draft classes on defense to get them to where they need to be wouldn’t work.

We know both Mayock and Gruden value their draft capital. Yet, after three seasons the Raiders are a .500 team. For them to get the Raiders defense to catapult them into the playoffs, they mustn’t wait. Their offense is there and now it’s time to make the moves, spend the money, and get their defense where it needs to be so Raider Nation is again excited for a playoff run.