Raiders’ $11 Million Starter Ripped as ‘Non-Existent’

bilal nichols

Getty Bilal Nichols tackling Davis Mills.

Last offseason wasn’t great for the Las Vegas Raiders. The two big free agent signings the team made were Chandler Jones and Bilal Nichols. Both were supposed to help improve the pass rush.

Instead, neither could get after the quarterback last season. Nichols had just 1.5 sacks. The Raiders signed him to an $11 million contract after four season seasons with the Bears. He had 8.0 sacks combined in the previous two seasons. He was never an elite pass-rushing defensive tackle but the Raiders were banking on him at least getting a few sacks. He wasn’t much of a factor in 2022, which led Football Outsiders to name Nichols as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL:

Nichols was brought in to Las Vegas to provide some semblance of an interior pass rush, which never materialized—just 1.5 sacks and 18 hurries on the year. That might be OK if Nichols was solid against the run, but Nichols didn’t provide much of an impact there either, routinely getting pushed around or creating a seam and a running lane. Honestly, the best way to word Nichols’ impact on the 2022 season is “non-existent”; not exactly what Las Vegas was hoping for from their second-biggest free agent acquisition of the year. Hey, how did that biggest acquisition work out again?

Will Nichols Bounce Back?

The Raiders added Byron Young in the draft and the team will happily make him a starter if he plays well in training camp. Nichols is in a contract year and needs to perform if he hopes to get paid again. He has proven in the past that he can rush the passer at a decent rate. Maybe the addition of Tyree Wilson on the edge will make things easier for the interior pass rushers.

Regardless, Nichols needs to at least improve in the run game if he’s not going to get after the quarterback. A second year under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham could be what he needs to improve.

Alex Bars Also Named Among Worst at Position

Unfortunately for the Raiders, Nichols wasn’t the only player named among the worst at their poison. Offensive guard Alex Bars also received the dishonor:

He really shouldn’t be a starter; he lacks the quickness and the timing you would like from an every-game starter. But lacking other options, the Raiders gave him 14 starts and, well, there were moments where he was just completely blown off the field. While he generally improved over the course of the year, he still hadn’t reached competent starter levels by the end; Chris Jones blew him away to the tune of eight pressures and a pair of sacks in Week 18. You can live with Bars as a spot starter or a bench guy, but he was the worst lineman to start double-digit games in 2022.

Bars didn’t play every game for the Raiders last season but he wasn’t awful. The offensive line was a bit of a mess for portions of the season but they outperformed expectations. Bars isn’t a very high-upside player but he can hold his own. That said, the Raiders would prefer to keep him in a reserve role rather than have him as a full-time starter.

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