The Oakland Raiders won 12 games last season, but it was not thanks to their No. 26 ranked defense. They took the bend don’t break mantra seriously often waiting for Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack to save the day by forcing a turnover.
However, they will need to improve mightily on defense this season if they want to build on last year’s success.
Here are the 11 most important Raiders on defense for 2017.
No. 11 – DT Eddie Vanderdoes
Oakland struggled last season getting any interior pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they racked up just three sacks from the defensive tackle position.
Now, the two players who had those three sacks, former Raiders defensive tackles Dan Williams and Stacy McGee, are now gone.
With that being said, Raiders defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, who has shown to have an inside push, will need to be effective to help improve upon last year’s weakness in the middle.
No. 10 – CB Sean Smith
Raiders cornerback Sean Smith was often torched last season for chunk plays, but still, put up an impressive Pro Football Focus player grade of 83.4.
One must not look at the PFF grade and think the position is under lock, however, Smith was not as bad as people thought last season.
As long as Oakland can find a productive nickel corner to matchup with the smaller and quicker players, then Smith will be just fine serving a significant role in the defense.
No. 9 – DE Mario Edwards Jr.
Without Raiders linebacker Aldon Smith, Oakland doesn’t have an elite pass rusher to compliment Mack. Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin is solid, but he isn’t a dominant pass rushing force.
Therefore, Oakland would benefit mightily if Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. has a bounceback season. He can help stop the run early, but, most importantly, can assist the pass rush by sliding inside to free the outside up for Mack and Irvin.
No. 8 – S Reggie Nelson
Raiders safety Reggie Nelson had another impressive season hauling in five interceptions.
With Oakland’s defense expected to be improved, but not elite, Nelson’s presence will tell me very important. They will need him to continue to force turnovers and also be a veteran presence with a large number of defensive rookies coming into the fold in 2017.
No. 7 – LB Bruce Irvin
Currently, Irvin is the second best pass rusher on the team behind Mack and is vital to the team’s success.
The more pressure he creates, the harder it is for teams to double and triple-team Mack. The less double teams Mack has to face, the easier it will be for Mack to wreak havoc.
No. 6 – S Karl Joseph
Oakland’s defense struggled against the run last year ranking No. 23 in the NFL.
With no middle linebacker replacement in sight, there could be a lot of free running backs hitting the second level in 2017. Therefore, it is essential for Raiders safety Karl Joseph to be the hard hitting and sure-tackling safety that he is known to be.
If he isn’t, then a lot of running backs will be taken their second-level runs to the end zone.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.