Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie values versatility as much as any other attribute. It is proven by the players he has brought in via free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft. Suddenly, the Raiders defense looks like a unit that will be massively better than the previous two seasons under head coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. In part one of a three part defensive versatility outlook, we take a look at the options Oakland has along the defensive line and how that will benefit them in the 2014 campaign.
To begin, here are the players the Raiders added to the defensive line in free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft. McKenzie signed defensive ends Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, C.J. Wilson and Antonio Smith in the offseason. In the 2014 NFL Draft, McKenzie added defensive tackle Justin Ellis in the fourth-round and defensive end Shelby Harris in the seventh. Those additions will come together with defensive tackles Pat Sims and Stacy McGee to give the Raiders defense the ability to rotate personnel and run multiple defenses.
Dennis Allen has made it clear that he still wants the Raiders to run a base 4-3 scheme. Once these additions gel and build chemistry, the Raiders can modify that strategy. Against the run in 2013, the Raiders ranked 13th in the NFL allowing 107.9 yards per game. Now, the team will have the option to shore that up further. Oakland can use two run stuffing defensive tackles in Sims and Ellis to make it very difficult for opponents to run the ball. Both men are well over 300 pounds and eat blockers to free up tacklers. Then the Raiders can use two large defensive ends in Antonio Smith and Justin Tuck to further clog running lanes.
As far as the pass rush is concerned, the Raiders have upgraded exponentially. For third and long passing situations, the Raiders can move Smith and Tuck inside to defensive tackle and allow LaMarr Woodley and 2014 first round pick Khalil Mack to come off the edge. Although Mack is a linebacker, the Raiders envision him playing some with his hand in the dirt.
Versatility is going to be extremely valuable for Oakland in 2014. This was McKenzie's plan. The combinations and rotations along the defensive line will benefit both the pass rush and run defense. Oakland has more capable bodies to move inside and out and more depth to keep everyone fresh. When Tuck needs a breather, Oakland can move in C.J. Wilson. When Sims or Ellis need a play to recover, McGee can fill in. Shelby Harris is a player who played both inside at defensive tackle and outside at end in college. He can contribute if he comes into training camp and earns a spot.
Oakland has set themselves up nicely along the defensive front with all their versatility. The upgrade in talent and ability to move pieces around like a chess set, gives the Raiders the option to run a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme at any time. Jason Tarver is known for his creativity as a defensive coordinator. Now, he has the pieces to make this Raiders defense very interesting in 2014.Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Antonio Smith, Football, Jason Tarver, Justin Ellis, Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, NFL, Oakland, Oakland Raiders, Pat Sims