Raiders Roster Breakdown: Raiders defensive line reloads after disappointing 2020 season

Last season, the Las Vegas Raiders defensive line managed only a woeful 14.5 sacks. Enter Yannick Ngakoue, who should pair with Maxx Crosby as one of the top pass-rushing duos in the league.

Don’t believe it? Just ask him.

“I think that Maxx and myself are the best duo that’s going to come hit the scene,” Ngakoue said. “I’m already putting that out there. I feel like the NFL has kind of shied away from that and that’s cool, but Maxx is a hard worker. He’s a guy that’s putting in the work.

“Literally, I’m lifting weights right now and Maxx is in there doing things to get better. It’s the dedication and commitment. I can play all day with a guy like that.”

That needs to be the case if the Raiders hope to have a successful season. The defense overall underperformed last season, ranking 25th in total defense and 26th in passing defense. Even worse, the team was 30th in points allowed, giving up an average of 29.9 points per game.

raiders defensive line Maxx Crosby
Maxx Crosby looks forward to pairing with new Raiders DE Yannick Ngakoue. Photo: Raiders

The Raiders defensive line notched only 14.5 sacks and as a team overall they were only able to get to the quarterback  21 times, ranking 29th in the league.

Raiders defensive line needs to get to the quarterback

Ngakoue has always been able to get to the quarterback in his five years in the league. He has 45.5 sacks in his career, including 12 in 2017 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last year, as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravels, he had eight sacks. The Raiders signed Ngakoue as a free agent to a two-year deal worth $26 million.

This season, he’s bulked up a bit in hopes of upping his game. 

“I feel like putting more muscle on and still keeping that lean mass will help me be effective,” he said. “I’m definitely not the same player that was on those two teams. That’s the main reason why I did it, I was trying to get better. The more weight you have, the more you can carry it, I feel like the more effective you can be at my position.”

Raiders defensive line competition will be fierce

The Raiders already had Crosby and former first-round pick Clelin Ferrell on the ends before adding Ngakoue. Those three would give the team a solid rotation of ends. On the inside, the Raiders cut Maurice Hurst, but resigned Johnathan Hankins and brought in Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas and Darius Philon.

“I think as we continue to evaluate these guys, the consistency in how they play the run and the pass,” said new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. “A fourth-quarter rush, a two-minute rush is so important, especially what happened from last year, right? And I think that’s where the depth we got to have two groups that we really can count on to keep our guys fresh so when those situations occur, we take advantage of them.”

Others who will fight for playing time on Raiders defensive line

The Raiders front office has done a pretty good job of turning a weakness into a possible position of strength for 2021. Along with those previously mentioned, the team also has more depth players who can contribute as well.

first openly gay active NFL player carl nassib
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib (94) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Carl Nassib came out as the NFL’s first openly gay active player, but he’s also been a proven NFL commodity as a defensive end. In his first season with the Raiders in 2020, Nassib had 17 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception.

Also adding depth will be Matt Dickerson and rookie Malcolm Koonce.