If the Raiders plan to improve on their dismal 4-12 season a year ago, the defense will have to be world's better in 2019.
Much has been made about Oakland's non-existent pass rush in 2018, when the Raiders ranked last in the NFL after managing only 13 sacks -- 17 fewer than the next closest team.
The Raiders tried to rectify some of their issues in the offseason by drafting star Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Silver and Black also drafted safety Johnathan Abram, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and edge rusher Maxx Crosby. They also signed safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall.
Oakland's defense likely will be improved from a season ago. But by just how much remains to be seen.
The AFC West, meanwhile, has no shortage of explosive offenses, so the division very well could come down to which defenses are able to get off the field when it matters most. As such, let's take a look at home the Raiders' defense stacks up against the rest of the AFC West.
Raiders vs. Chiefs
Defensive line: The Chiefs made some changes in the offseason, bringing in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo while cutting Justin Houston and trading edge rusher Dee Ford to the 49ers. They also acquired Frank Clark from the Seattle Seahawks. KC is transitioning from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 and as such could have some growing pains. Only Clark and nose tackle Chris Jones are locks to make the roster in camp.
The Raider's defensive line has issues of its own, but another year for Maurice Hurst, PJ Hall and Arden Key should buoy Oakland's unit and Ferrell hopefully will provide instant impact off the edge. Don't sleep on Eddie Vanderdoes who returns after missing the entire 2018 season while recovering from a torn ACL. Edge: Raiders
Linebackers: Kansas City got a steal when they acquired Darron Lee from the New York Jets for a sixth-round draft pick. Lee and Anthony Hitchens are two solid backers, but the drop off after those two is severe. Unless Reggie Ragland can rediscover the promise he showed in 2017, this unit could be in trouble.
As for the linebacking corps in Oakland, Paul Guenther's unit is hoping veterans Burfict and Marshall can bring some stability and leadership to a group that struggled mightily last year. If Tahir Whitehead and Marquel Lee can continue their improvement from the end of last season, Guenther might have the makings of a defense on his hands. Edge: Raiders
Secondary: The Chiefs' secondary will need to communicate better in order to improve on what was a relatively dismal performance a season ago. Eric Berry is gone. Tyrann Mathieu is in. Kendall Fuller was solid in his first season in Kansas City but the rest of the secondary struggled, giving up explosive play after explosive play. Mathieu is a good player, but unless Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward take a step forward, the Chiefs' secondary will struggle again.
Oakland's secondary added Joyner and Abram which should, in theory, make them better. If Gareon Conley can stay healthy and Mullen, Daryl Worley or Nevin Lawson can cement themselves as the solid corner on the other side, Oakland's secondary has the potential to be good. Edge. Raiders
Overall: Advantage Raiders
Raiders vs. Chargers
Defensive line: Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and now Jerry Tillery. The Bolts will have a fearsome frontline yet again. Edge: Chargers
Linebackers: The Chargers' linebacking corps was hit hard with injuries a season ago. The health of Denzel Perryman, Kyzir White and Jatavis Brown is paramount. If the Bolts' backers are healthy this is a no-brainer. Edge: Chargers
Secondary: I like Abram and Mullen. Conley has a ton of potential. The Chargers have Desmond King, Casey Hayward, Adrian Phillips, Derwin James and Nasir Adderley. Wow. Edge: Chargers
Overall: Advantage Chargers
Raiders vs. Broncos
Defensive line: For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to include Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in this category as well even though they technically play outside linebacker in Denver's 3-4 scheme. Chubb and Miller are paid to get after the passer. So is Derek Wolfe. Oh, and the Broncos drafted Dre'Mont Jones. Have fun, opposing offensive lines. Edge: Broncos
Linebackers: If you want to include Miller and Chubb in this group, that's fine. They'll be the starting outside linebackers. Both Miller and Chubb should feast in new head coach Vic Fangio's defense. (Remember what he did with Khalil Mack?) Todd Davis and Josey Jewell will start inside and have their warts. Rookie Justin Hollins could slide inside to help in coverage at some point. Edge: Broncos
Secondary: Kareem Jackson is in to stabilize the safety group. Chris Harris still is the best slot cover man in the game. No need to go any further. Edge: Broncos
Overall: Advantage Broncos