Raiders’ $51 Million Star Could Lose Starting Job to Rookie

chandler jones

Getty Chandler Jones with Las Vegas Raiders teammates.

Defensive end wasn’t the Las Vegas Raiders‘ biggest need heading into the draft but when Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson was still available at No. 7, the team had to pounce. The team has a lot of money tied up in Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby and they are expected to be the starters. Crosby has cemented himself as one of the best players in the NFL but Jones is coming off a rough year.

The Raiders gave him a $51 million contract last year but could only muster 4.5 sacks in 15 games. Jones is a good leader and one of the best rushers of the last decade but he’s 33 now and coming off a serious injury. Had he been more productive in 2022 before the injury, there’s no doubt he’d be penciled in as the other starting defensive end. However, people can’t rule out Wilson winning the job.

He’s raw and needs to work on his technique but he’s powerful and an elite athlete. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get to the quarterback. Obviously, if he’s going to have long-term success, he needs to refine his game but his raw athleticism could provide an upgrade over Jones. The four-time Pro Bowler will likely start the season as the starter but Wilson could eventually earn the nod if he pops early.

Wilson Could Play in Multiple Spots

When the Raiders hired Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator last season, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not the team would have a 3-4 or 4-3 base defense. The team ended up utilizing 4-3 more often but the addition of Wilson could allow them to be more creative. The rookie is a versatile piece that has experience doing multiple things. Raiders assistant general manager Champ Kelly discussed Wilson’s versatility.

“We thought he was extremely versatile,” Kelly said of Wilson during his April 27 media availability. “He played all across the front, so you can line up with Maxx and Chan and those guys and still find a role to help us rush the quarterback. We’ve even seen him dropping (in coverage) in some clips, so we’re excited about that, too.”

Jones and Wilson have experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 base so they could line up there without having to take Crosby off of the line of scrimmage. Crosby has mostly played 4-3 defensive end in the NFL and doesn’t have much experience dropping back into coverage.

Raiders Do Know Wilson Needs to Improve

If Wilson is going to take over Jones’ starting spot, he’s going to have to impress in training camp. The Raiders have already expressed areas they’d like to see him improve. Wilson was so much more athletic and stronger than most of the competition he faced in college but that won’t be the case in the NFL. He’ll have to also beat players with his mind. That’s where general manager Dave Ziegler would like to see Wilson improve.

“But we just feel like just setting up your pass rush, countermoves, how to study your tackle, what’s the best way to beat this individual player specifically — that’s not something he had to do,” Ziegler said. “He didn’t have to vary it as much as he’s going to have to do in the NFL. So there’s a level of that, that I think he can continue to grow.”

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