When the financial gurus in the Raiders front office calculate the salary cap, they love adding in the salaries of the team's defensive ends. Other than Derrick Burgess’ $3.5 million salary, the salaries of the other defensive ends on the roster average $343,000.
This is reminiscent of the hit AC/DC song, “Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap!”
Defensive ends have two responsibilities: help stop the run, and rush the passer. On running plays they must keep the runner from getting to the outside, while standing their ground against blockers. On passing plays, their job is to create pressure and get to the quarterback, while keeping the passer from rolling out of the pocket.
To be successful, defensive ends need to be extremely quick and agile, with enough strength to hold their position, shed blockers, and make tackles. They usually weigh between 260 and 275 pounds, and do well in the three-cone drill and 40-yard dash. Right ends who attack the quarterback from the blind side are usually the best athletes on the line.
Ideally, a single player can handle both run and pass defense duties. Sometimes pass rush specialists are brought in on obvious passing downs to rush the passer. Successful pass rushers may use a variety of techniques to get past the offensive tackle, including an outside speed rush, spin move, or bull rush.
Raiders defensive ends did not distinguish themselves against the rush last year. Their play was part of the reason the Raiders finished 27th in total yards given up, and next to last in the league in total rushing yards surrendered.
But you must give the defensive ends credit. The Raiders ranked 13th in the league in sacks last season, registering 32 for the season. These included 18 (56 percent) sacks by defensive ends, 10.5 defensive tackles, two by linebackers and 1.5 by defensive backs.
The percentage of Raider defensive end sacks is comparable with the percentage of defensive end sacks of the NFL’s top two 4-3 sack defenses, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. Thirty (62.5 percent) of the 48 Eagles’ sacks were by defensive ends, and 23 (51 percent) of the 45 Vikings’ sacks were by defensive ends.
Jay Richardson, a 6’6”, 280-pound third-year player led all Raiders defensive ends with 53 tackles and a safety. He started 11 games for the silver and black, and registered three sacks. He is a solid performer who is still learning the position, and defends well against the run. He is sometimes replaced in passing downs with situational pass rushers.
Derrick Burgess, a 6’2”, 260-pound ninth-year Bowl player struggled with injuries in 2008, only playing in 10 games and making 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was a Pro Bowl player in 2006 and is primarily a sack specialist. Number 56 is often found in the thick of the action, making key tackles and sacks.
Trevor Scott, a 6’5”, 255-pound second-year player had a fabulous rookie season, garnering five sacks and 24 tackles. This sixth-round pick, a converted tight end, is extremely quick and agile, having run a 4.52 second 40-yard dash, and a 6.84 second three-cone drill. He showed a lot of promise last year, especially in the NY Jets game where his two sacks of Bret Favre helped seal the Raiders 16-13 victory.
Greyson Gundheim is a 6’5”, 265-pound undrafted second-year player who saw very little service in his rookie season, making just two tackles and one sack.
Derrick Grey is a 6’4”, 265-pound undrafted second year player who posted no defensive stats.
In the offseason the Raiders released Kalimba Edwards, former second round pick of the Detroit Lions. He had a solid 2008 season with 48 tackles and five sacks last season, which tied him for the team sack lead. This 6’6”, 265-pound eighth-year pro started eleven games for the silver and black, and set a personal record for most tackles in a season despite being hampered at the end of the season by a triceps injury. His release cleared $2.5 million in salary cap space.
So how are the Raiders set at defensive end? As of today, they only have five defensive ends on the roster, three of which will be second year players. As I see it:
- There are only three defensive ends on the roster with any kind of real NFL game experience, Burgess, Richardson and Scott.
- Three of the five were rookies last year, and Gundheim and Gray played sparingly, if at all.
- There is little depth behind the starters, which could be a serious problem if Richardson or Burgess are injured.
- Despite their youth, the Raiders sack production by their defensive ends was good.
- Trevor Scott, a converted tight end, shows great promise as a speed rusher off the edge, and should show continued improvement this season.
The Raiders need to beef up this position in the draft or free agency, not simply from a pass rush perspective, but also from a run-defense perspective. Two options in the free agent market include re-signing Kalimba Edwards, or signing Ebenezer Ekuban, the 6’4”, 275-pound, 11th year former Bronco who had 38 tackles and five sacks in 2008.
In the draft, Brian Orakpo, Texas (6’3”, 263 pounds), could be available at the number seven pick in the first round. Robert Ayers, Tennessee (6’3”, 272 pounds) might be a good run stopper for the Raiders as a second round pick, as would San Jose State's Jarron Gilbert, (6’3”, 272 pounds) in the third round. Henry Melton, the Texas defensive end overshadowed by Orakpo, is 6’4”, 269 pounds and has great potential—4.5 second speed. He might be a steal in the sixth round.
A great defensive end can wreak havoc with other teams' offensive schemes, and help the players around him play better. Just look at the success the Raiders "D" had when Hall of Famer Howie Long and his nonstop motor were on the field. Or when fiery, intimidating Lyle Alzado was ripping helmets off the opposition. A return to greatness at this position would be fantastic.