Oakland Raiders: Best Defensive Players by Position Since the 1990s
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Last week, I wrote an article entitled Oakland Raiders: Best Offensive Players by Position Since the 1990s. I went position-by-position and analyzed the best player by position on the Oakland Raiders in my lifetime as a fan, roughly around the year 1993.
Today, I tackle the Raiders' defense over the years. This unit had the most debatable positions, whereas the offense had many more clear cut winners.
The Raiders have a tradition dating back to the 1970s of having a tough defense built on getting to the quarterback and having a stellar secondary. These players have kept that tradition alive.
DT Richard Seymour (2009-Present)
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I'll start the slideshow with a current player, Richard Seymour.
I could have went a number of directions with the defensive tackle position, but Seymour definitely gets one of the spots.
Everyone knows the story by now. He was traded to Oakland by the Patriots before the 2009 regular season, going from a premier franchise to one that has seen better days.
Since then, Seymour has been a professional, embracing his role as the sole veteran leader on a young defense. He has accumulated 12 sacks thus far in his career with the Raiders. Yet, his contributions cannot be based solely on statistics.
Seymour can also be credited for fellow tackle Tommy Kelly's rebirth, as well as the development of defensive ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston. All three players look to Seymour to set the tone and feed off of him.
He proved to be a much better veteran acquisition than Warren Sapp and Ted Washington, both of whom were definitely not in consideration for the other defensive tackle spot. That instead goes to...
DT Darrell Russell (1997-2001)
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Unlike many other fans, I like to look back and appreciate history, both the positive and negative. On the other side of the ball, I included Barrett Robbins. I want to give the late Darrell Russell his due.
His off the field issues aside, Russell was a helluva football player, exactly what the Raiders expected when they drafted him with the second overall selection in the 1997 draft. In five short years with the Raiders, the last two of which were mired with a drug suspension, Russell had 28.5 sacks, quite a feat when you consider he lined up inside at defensive tackle.
Russell possessed the size and speed the Raiders covet at pretty much any position. He had the ability to take over games by causing havoc in opponents' backfields. He was named to two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.
Russell passed away in 2005.
DE Derrick Burgess (2005-2008)
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When the Raiders signed Derrick Burgess to a lucrative contract after he had a strong run in the playoffs with the Philadelphia Eagles, Raider Nation was skeptical at first. He had been plagued with injuries during his time in Philly and the team had seen its fair share of free-agent flops who had performed well in the postseason the year prior to signing with the team.
While Burgess played during one of Oakland's darkest periods in franchise history, his play certainly did not contribute to the team's futility. In his first season with the Raiders, Burgess put up a league-leading 16 sacks. What was more impressive was that the team refused to line him up on the opposing quarterback's blindside. All of those sacks came from when he was coming right at the quarterback. Not surprisingly, Burgess was selected to the Pro Bowl that season.
In the next three seasons, Burgess would be voted to the Pro Bowl once more and compiled 22.5 sacks. Injuries did catch up with him the latter two seasons and he was traded after the 2008 season to the New England Patriots.
While he was a one-dimensional player, he was the best pass-rusher on the Raiders in recent memories. Pair him with the other two members of this defensive line and you have quite the unit. As for the final member of the defensive line...
DE Lance Johnstone (1996-2000, 2006)
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Drafted by the team in the second round of the 1996 draft, Johnstone proved to be a valuable member of an up and coming Raiders team in the late 1990s. In the first two seasons of Jon Gruden's regime, Johnstone had 21 combined sacks. He was also a key member of the defensive line rotation in 2000, before signing with the Minnesota Vikings the next season.
He performed well in Minnesota and in five seasons with the team had 42 sacks. He rejoined the Raiders for the 2006 season, though he probably wishes he hadn't.
Unlike Burgess, Johnstone held his own in the running game. He was a fiery competitor with a relentless motor.
MLB Greg Biekert (1993-2001)
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One of the unsung members of the Raiders' defense, Biekert brought a cerebral aspect to the position for years. He never once made a Pro Bowl, but he was a consistent member of the defense, starting nearly every game between when he inherited the job full time in '94 and 2001.
Biekert will forever be known for his last play with the Silver and Black. In 'The Game Which Must Not Be Named,' Biekert recovered an apparent fumble on a Charles Woodson sack which would have effectively ended the game. Alas, it was not to be.
Biekert posted over 100 tackles three times in his career with the Raiders. He is currently the team's linebacker coach.
WLB William Thomas (2000-2001)
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A two-time Pro Bowler with the Philadelphia Eagles, Thomas was another savvy free-agent acquisition in the Gruden era. Though he was only with the team for two seasons, Thomas played in every game, starting all except one.
Thomas was fantastic in coverage, intercepting nine passes from the linebacker position in his career with the Raiders. He also had five total sacks with the team and was formidable on run defense, which gives him the edge over Thomas Howard.
Like Biekert, Thomas' final memory with the Raiders is a bitter one, coming in that 2001 playoff defeat. The team has tried to replace his production from the weak side ever since he retired.
SLB Bill Romanowski (2002-2003)
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Another linebacker that was only with the team for two years, this one is long-time enemy of the Raiders, Bill Romanowski. After years with the Denver Broncos, Romanowski joined the Raiders in 2002 to help the team make a final push and reach the Super Bowl. He fit right in with the Silver and Black.
The defense welcomed his intensity and his veteran presence meshed well with an older squad. Romanowski was a pivotal run stuffer and also added four sacks and one interception.
After the Super Bowl loss, Romanowski's 2003 season was marred with a devastating injury and an altercation with teammate Marcus Williams, where he crushed Williams' eye socket with a punch.
The fire Romanowski brought on the field is something the Raiders' defense has missed since his brief stint with the team.
CB Charles Woodson (1998-2005)
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Charles Woodson burst onto the scene in 1998 when he had five interceptions in his first season with the Raiders. Drafted by the team with the fourth overall selection in the 1998 draft, Woodson looked to be a cover corner in the throwback mold of Willie Brown and Mike Haynes.
Woodson proved to be just that. While critics complained of his lack of interceptions after his first season, his absence on the stat sheet was due more to Oakland's coverage scheme and the fact opponents simply would not throw to him. What he lacked in interceptions, he made up for in sacks and fumbles forced.
Between 1998 and 2001 with the team, Woodson made the Pro Bowl every year. He also was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in '98.
For those that doubted his playmaking abilities, look no further than his production with the Green Bay Packers. Going into his sixth season with the Packers, Woodson has 30 interceptions with the team.
There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss No. 24 manning one of the cornerback spots.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha (2003-2010)
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As much as many fans might hate this, Nnamdi has to be the other choice.
No matter what he does with the Eagles, from 2006, his breakout season, to 2010 he was the Raiders' best player. He intercepted eight passes in '06 and opponents learned their lesson. In the next four seasons, Asomugha had only three total interceptions. Ironically, this lack of production triggered a clause that voided his contract after the '10 season.
He made the Pro Bowl every season from 2008 to 2010 and was probably robbed of two others. Whether the Raiders can live without Nnamdi in their secondary remains to be seen. He is a consummate professional and was an anchor to a porous defense for many years.
FS Rod Woodson (2002-2003)
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Yet another veteran acquisition of the early 2000s, Woodson continued his brilliant career and spent his twilight years with the Raiders. He played the center field position of the defense to near perfection in 2002, tallying eight interceptions.
With the Raiders, he was named to a Pro Bowl in 2002 to go along with a First Team All-Pro designation. Woodson was probably the most valuable member on that Super Bowl defense, providing years of experience to Oakland's secondary.
Woodson needs no further touting; he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
S Eric Turner (1997-1999)
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Even though the position doesn't match up, consider this a sentimental pick. Though he played free safety for most of his career, Turner did see some time at strong safety. Thus, this earns him the final spot on this honorary lineup.
Turner was a hard hitter and solid in coverage. In his three seasons with the Raiders, he had eight interceptions despite missing 16 games due to various injuries.
Sadly, Turner passed at the age of 31 after a battle with intestinal cancer. He will always be in the hearts of Raider Nation. I couldn't think of a better person to end this slideshow with.