While the NFL playoffs are underway, the Las Vegas Raiders fell short of postseason play and have since then moved their focus to next season. Here’s an early look at potential free-agent fits for the Raiders defensive line.
The NFL free agency period doesn’t kick off until the start of the new league year in mid-March. Based on what the Raiders defense showed during the 2020 season, all signs post towards Las Vegas being heavily involved in reworking their defensive unit through free agency and the NFL Draft.
In the meantime, coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have held three interviews for their defensive coordinator vacancy. As they complete their due diligence on who is best suited for the defensive coordinator position, they’ve interviewed Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Rams linebacker coach Joe Barry and Cowboys pass game coordinator Kris Richard.
After settling on a defensive coordinator, the Raiders will then key in on free agency in an effort to upgrade their 30th ranked defense.
Currently, the Raiders are $7.6 million over their 2021 salary cap. They’ll have to part ways with players on the current roster to get below that figure. Meanwhile, in order to add new assets to the team in the form of free agency, additional players could be moved on from whether they’re traded or released so they can free up further spending dollars.
Here’s an early look at a handful of defensive players who fit the needs of the Raiders defensive line:
Possible Defensive Line Targets
The Raiders attempted to upgrade their defensive line entering the 2020 season with the additions of Carl Nassib and Maliek Collins. Nassib is likely to be back as he’s tied to $5.75 million in guaranteed money. Nassib is more of a rotational pass rusher versus a three-down player who can generate a high volume of sacks and pressures like the Raiders were hoping to get from him. Collins, however, is a free-agent after a less than inspiring 2020 season. The Raiders are destined to look elsewhere to acquire help from the interior aligment across their defensive line.
DT Leonard Williams
Leonard Williams and the Raiders have had speculation regarding a possible landing spot since his days at USC. Williams has gone public with his desire to put on the Silver and Black, saying before the draft that the Raiders are his favorite team and that he loves the tradition of the organization.
Williams has the repertoire of being a stout run defender throughout his young career. However, adding to his arsenal in 2020, Williams posted a career-high 11.5 sacks. He finished the season ranking seventh in sacks — including 4.5 more than his previous career-high of seven sacks in 2016. Back when Mayock served as NFL Network’s draft analyst, he ranked Williams as his No. 1 player in the 2015 draft class.
DT Shelby Harris
Originally drafted by the Raiders in 2014, Shelby Harris is another intriguing option once free agency kicks off. Adding Harris to the mix would not only upgrade the Raiders’ defense, but it would weaken a divisional opponent in the Denver Broncos. Harris has been a staple of the Broncos defensive line over the past four seasons, and the Raiders have seen first hand what he brings to the table.
Harris is known for his ability to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage. Over the last two years, Harris has recorded 16 pass deflections and 8.5 sacks. Harris serves as a potential fit for the Raiders defense in which he gives them help in stuffing the run, but has also enhanced his pass rush.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue
Last offseason the Raiders were reportedly “kicking the tires” on pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Ultimately, the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement as the asking price was too rich for the Raiders liking. Just a year later, they’ll have their chance to sign him via free agency if the interest and financial figures match up.
Ngakoue’s stock has plummeted a bit since the Raiders’ initial interest. Last offseason, he was viewed as one of the better up-and-coming edge rushers in the NFL. After spending the 2020 season with the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, he hasn’t been nearly as impactful compared to when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ngakoue recorded eight sacks, 23 tackles, four forced fumbles and one pass deflection in 2020. His contract demands may have come down just slightly as a result. It’s just a matter of if the Raiders’ interest still remains on par.
EDGE Melvin Ingram
If the Raiders wind up hiring Bradley to fill the void at defensive coordinator, Melvin Ingram makes a lot of sense to join the Raiders defensive line. Ingram has been a highly productive player under Bradley as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers. Of the three seasons in which Ingram was named to the pro bowl from 2017-2019, all three instances were under Bradley’s defensive system.
Ingram recorded three consecutive seasons with 70 or more pressures, according to PFF’s data calculations. In the Raiders’ last three seasons, they’ve failed to pressure opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis, and as a result, that’s tormented their secondary at times. Ingram’s coming off an injury-plagued year, but his services would uplift the Raiders defensive line in a way they’ve been looking for since Gruden’s return to coaching.