Bruce Irvin had a strong first season in Oakland in 2016. The outside linebacker gave the Raiders a fast, athletic outside linebacker opposite Khalil Mack who was in on 57 tackles, had seven sacks and six forced fumbles.
Yet Irvin, now entering his sixth NFL season, wants more. He could get it in 2017.
In upgrading their defense this offseason, the Raiders’ moves may allow Irvin to be even more of a playmaker. The additions of top two draft picks Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu in the secondary, the return of a fully healthy Mario Edwards Jr. at defensive end and the presence of veteran Jelani Jenkins at the other outside linebacker spot could free Irvin to be even more of a playmaker than he has been with the Seahawks and Raiders.
Marc Sessler, an analyst for NFL.com, this week included Irvin in a group of AFC players poised to make their first Pro Bowl appearance.
Wrote Sessler: “It’s somewhat surprising Irvin was never included in the annual haul of Pro Bowlers in Seattle. This could be the former first-rounder’s time, though, with the quarterback chaser coming off a seven-sack season for a buzzy Raiders team with Super Bowl aspirations.
“Playing across from Khalil Mack will only help as teams dedicate extra resources to shutting down Oakland’s young All-Pro. Irvin has the talent – and is in the right situation – to put up double-digit sacks for a club that will spend all year in the spotlight.”
Plus, Irvin has been driven to be among the NFL’s best edge rushers. Late last season after he had picked up his seventh sack, he was vocal about wanting to get to 10 for the first time in his career. Only in his rookie year in Seattle did he ever have more than seven, with eight.
“I definitely want to get that,” Irvin told Jimmy Durkin of the Bay Area News Group. “I definitely … I’m going to get it. I’m going to get it.”
He didn’t, getting shut out over the final two games vs. the Colts and Broncos. Yet defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said getting to double digits in sacks is important to Irvin.
“Bruce has been trying to get there for a long time,” he noted. But, he said Irvin’s value to the Raiders isn’t based solely on his sack totals.
“Everybody likes sacks, but Bruce is our spy, he’s our cover guy,” said Norton. “He’s the guy on the other side of Khalil. He’s the guy who re-routes receivers well, he’s one of our fastest, best athletes. He’s a guy who shows up early and studies late. He’s one of our team leaders and you see the way he comes. He might not have a lot of sacks, but he has a lot of quarterback hits.”