Raiders Competition at Defensive Tackle: Who Will Win Out in 2021?

Nicholas Cothrel
Raiders news defensive tackle

The Las Vegas Raiders entered the offseason with defensive tackle being one of the team’s biggest positions of need. So as free agency begins to dwindle down, how does defensive tackle shape up?

Much of the Raiders’ news this offseason has been focused on added reinforcements to improve the uninspiring production at defensive tackle they received last season. While Las Vegas — at least initially — had the cap space to sign one of the premier free agents at the position, but instead, wound up going an alternative route. Alternatively, they signed a mixed bag of defensive tackles in an effort to fill the void.

Matt Dickerson Las Vegas Raiders
Dec 6, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Titans defensive end Matt Dickerson (92) before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Nissan Stadium. Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Originally, Maurice Hurst stood alone on the depth chart at defensive tackle. Now, nearly three weeks later, the Raiders have more defensive tackles than any other position on defense.

Sacking the quarterback has been a daunting issue for the Raiders since Jon Gruden’s return. Las Vegas finished last season 29th in sacks, after being a bottom third finisher in the two years prior as well. As a result, it appears the Raiders are heading into 2021 with an abundance of options to get after the quarterback. Essentially, if one player isn’t getting the job done, it’s onto the next one.

The Raiders’ defensive tackle group shapes up as such:

Maurice Hurst

Hurst was poised for a big season last year before having it derailed due to an ankle injury. He only started three games as he couldn’t find ways to see the field more regularly as a result of the injury bug. However, Hurst did post a pass rush grade of 78.5, per PFF, when he was available. Hurst has a good shot at seeing time in a starting role if he can stay healthy in 2021, as someone who possesses adequate pass rush upside.

Jonathan Hankins

After re-signing this offseason, Hankins enters his fourth year with the Raiders. He won’t bring much to the table in the form of a pass rush. Nonetheless, Hankins’ calling card includes his efforts in stopping the run. With a lot of competition entering training camp, Hankins at the very least should see the field on short-yardage situations.

Quinton Jefferson

Jefferson has spent six seasons as a dependable starter and rotational player with the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. In 2020, Jefferson posted a 71.2 PFF pass rush grade, including 27 pressures and 17 hurries. Jefferson and recently signed edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, come into the fold of things after playing alongside one another at the University of Maryland from 2013-15. The former college duo will look to reenact their chemistry of applying a rejuvenated pass rush in Las Vegas.

David Irving

In 2017, Irving looked like a potential star in the making, recording seven sacks in just eight games. Substance abuse earned him a suspension for the 2019 season, before eventually signing with the Raiders. In two games with Las Vegas, serving in a rotational role last season, Irving displayed considerable play strength but didn’t show up much on the stat sheet.

Solomon Thomas

Thomas, the former third overall pick in the 2017 draft, has largely underachieved thus far. He’s played a combination of defensive end, while also seeing time along the edge. With the Raiders he’s destined to play from the inside and will have to earn playing time with such a large quantity of options at the position. Thomas has potential — he was drafted in the top five for a reason — but it’s a matter of unlocking what he’s capable of.

Kendal Vickers

It was somewhat surprising when Vickers made the team out of training camp last year. He didn’t get much run despite the position being quite underwhelming. But in the minimal usage he did see, Vickers provided two sacks. He’s predominately a defensive tackle but did offer modest versatility, seeing some opportunities at the Edge position.

Darius Philon

Philon registered 8.5 sacks over his final two seasons with the Chargers. After a newly signed free agent contract in 2019 to join the Arizona Cardinals, Philon was arrested for assault. His case did not go to trial and was dismissed before signing with the Raiders this offseason. Philon has played two years under Raiders’ defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in 2017-18, so he’ll enter the mix with some familiarity. Philon’s most recent season included four sacks, which would’ve led the Raiders among inside pass rushers last season.

Matt Dickerson

Dickerson comes to Las Vegas after spending three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Last season, he saw a career-high 10 games, while registering 10 tackles and one quarterback pressure. Dickerson is still very much an unproven commodity and will have his work cut out for him in order to crack the roster.