A great pass rusher's hard to find. Even consistently good ones are rare.
Raiders head coach Jon Gruden made those true and salient points last season and got ridiculed for saying so shortly after trading Khalil Mack.
Let's ignore the timing and context for a second and agree that star edge rushers don’t come around often despite all the top draft capital spent on them, while pointing out a glaring omission.
Everyone forgets the plural.
Good pass rushers -- with an "s" -- are hard to find.
Teams need more than one to be impactful. The Raiders could use a fleet, like the Eagles now or the Seahawks a few years back. Even Mack couldn’t do it alone, or with Bruce Irvin as a tag-team partner. The Raiders were No. 24 in total sacks in 2017 and dead last during the 2016 playoff run, when Mack was the Defensive Player of the Year.
This isn’t a re-litigation of the Mack trade, but instead a discussion on the time required to fix a broken pass rush. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Mack turned the Bears into a juggernaut, but he was the last card required for a royal flush. The 49ers have the makings of pressure cooker, but it took four first-round draft picks – that includes the Solomon Thomas misstep (to this point) -- and a major trade to form.
It’s therefore unfair to expect No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell and fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby to right the ship right away – seventh-round pick Quenton Bell’s a major project -- even if second-year pros Arden Key, Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall kick it up a notch. The return to respectability could be long, especially reaching coordinator Paul Guenther’s preference to use a four-man rush.
The Raiders are happy with the prospects taken from this draft, believing dividends will come from these edge players.
“Let’s face it, we needed some defensive ends,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “You guys have been harping on that since I got here. We didn’t think that free agency was going to be the answer for that. I thought we did a really nice job here over the weekend to the extent that we couldn’t even sign any (undrafted) free agent defensive ends because they saw we drafted three. They’re all staying away from us.
"What we got, of course we got [Clelin] Ferrell - length, motor. We got [Maxx] Crosby - length, motor. Then we get this guy from Prairie View, Quinton Bell - length, motor, 4.40 speed. So we feel like for sure that’s a position we addressed and we’re excited about.”
Potential is surely there. Production might not be stellar, even if Ferrell hits the ground running. A quick start’s certainly possible considering his extensive pass-rush rolodex, motor and technical savvy, but rookies don’t typically take off without proper NFL experience.
Let’s not forget Mack only had four sacks as a rookie, even in a quality first year of run defense and quarterback pressure. Double-digit sack totals are relatively rare. Only seven rookies have reached 10 sacks in the last 10 years. Everyone in the crew save maybe one is a name you know, including Von Miller, Joey Bosa, Aldon Smith, and Bradley Chubb.
Greg Townsend and Anthony Smith have the team rookie record with 10.5, a first-year total that hasn’t been hit since 1991.
The Raiders believe Ferrell will be able to make an instant contribution, but he needs help inside from Hurst and Hall and threats off the opposite edge from Key, who had once sack, but Guenther believes he could’ve had more with better finishing.
There are few guarantees up front, something an established veteran could’ve provided had they not been so cost prohibitive on the open market.
The Raiders didn’t want to pay Mack top dollar and got killed for it – including at this web address -- though the Chiefs did the same with Dee Ford and the Seahawks with Frank Clark before those players got less than Mack’s record-setting total.
Time will tell if the foundation for steady quarterback pressure has been laid here after investing heavily in young pass rushers. More will probably come next year even if some potential turns kinetic, as the Raiders continue rebuilding their roster as Mayock and Gruden see fit.