In 2014, opponents had little trouble running on the Raiders defense.
Oakland gave up 119.4 yards per game on the ground and a 4-yards-per-carry average. Only one team gave up more touchdowns to opposing ballcarriers than the Raiders’ 17.
But when the Raiders report to training camp in late July, they’re betting their defense will be a much tougher unit to run on, thanks in part to three players: defensive tackles Dan Williams and Justin Ellis and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Williams, a five-year veteran, was signed as a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals. The 6-foot-2, 330-pounder is a run stuffer who should be able to plug holes and create problems for opposing interior linemen.
“Williams is one of the rarest things in the NFL,” wrote Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, on the day the Raiders signed both Williams and Lofton in March. “A true run-plugger at nose tackle. He was one of our favorite candidates in free agency, and should improve the Raiders’ front line right away.”
Ellis, too, is in the same mold, a 6-foot-2, 334-pounder who came on strong his rookie season after being taken in the fourth round out of Louisiana Tech. He started 14 games and came on especially strong near the end of the season. His numbers weren’t impressive – he was in on just 21 tackles – but like Williams, Ellis is hard to move and his strength inside allows Raiders linebackers to make tackles.
That’s where Lofton should come in as a big upgrade over Miles Burris, who was pressed into service at middle linebacker last season.
Lofton, 28, has good range and productivity. The 6-foot-2, 238-pounder entering his eighth season out of Oklahoma, was in on 145 tackles for the Saints in 2014.
“If Williams and Ellis can stay healthy, it will set the tone for the defensive line,” wrote Bill Williamson, who covers the Raiders for ESPN.com.