From 2018 to 2019, the Las Vegas Raiders defensive line saw quite a boost in production. While the improvement was apparent, the unit was still among the least productive in the NFL. However, the group is very young and if they could take another leap in 2020, things could be looking good for the defense.
One of the most intriguing players on the entire Raiders defense is defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Back in 2018, many projected for the former Michigan Wolverine to be a first-round pick. Unfortunately, health concerns came up shortly before the draft and he fell all the way to the fifth-round.
Through two seasons, Hurst has only missed three games and health doesn’t appear to be an issue for him. He’s been solid as a pass rusher and Gary Devenport of Bleacher Report believes he’s the Raiders’ best-kept secret:
With veteran tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Carl Nassib joining the team in free agency, the Raiders have their deepest and most talented defensive front in quite some time. There may not be a 15-sack superstar among the bunch, but with second-year pros Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell on the outside and Collins flanking him inside, Hurst has the support around him to propel him to a career-best season.
We may still see that first-round potential.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hurst was the fourth-best interior pass rusher in the entire NFL from Week 9 to 17 last season. With Collins coming into town to relieve some pressure, Hurst could be in for a breakout season.
How Good Is the Raiders’ Defensive Line?
When the Raiders had Khalil Mack, their sack numbers were misleading because he was so good. The team actually hasn’t had a good defensive line for a very long time. Fortunately, it appears the unit is coming together nicely for the team. Maxx Crosby should only get better in his second year and it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he’ll be good for 10 to 12 sacks in 2020.
Carl Nassib, who was signed in free agency, is good for at least six sacks and Clelin Ferrell has suggested he’s going to be a lot better in 2020. Collins is an underrated pass rusher in the interior and could thrive with Hurst next to him on passing downs. There’s nobody as good as Mack in the group, but this could be the best all-around defensive line the team has had in years.
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Other Best-Kept Secret
Thanks to the fact that he was injured in the preseason and missed most of the season, it’s easy to forget about cornerback Isaiah Johnson. The Raiders nailed the other two fourth-round picks from 2019 and there’s still a possibility that Johnson will also be a steal.
He’s got all the athletic traits you’d want to see from a top NFL cornerback. He’s tall, fast and lengthy. He’s going to have to make up for lost time this offseason and could still be a year away from making an impact, but the Raiders are excited about his potential. Considering how young the team is at the position, it’s not a stretch to believe he could find a sizeable role on the defense at some point in the season.