When several NFL analysts at NFL.com were polled this week about which team has the best defensive front, the Super Bowl-champion Broncos of course were at the top.
Also making the list were the Jets, Texans, Panthers and Steelers.
But right there among them were the Oakland Raiders.
Wrote former NFL fullback Michael Robinson: “With Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, the Raiders’ defensive front could be unstoppable. There are so many weapons in the Raiders’ front seven that I’m not sure which player you double team. If opponents decide to go one-on-one with any of these guys, especially Irvin and Mack, they are in big trouble. We saw last year what Mack is capable of, and there are a lot of other young players on this team that opponents have to watch out for. I’ll be interested to see if anyone can stop these guys.”
The Raiders are schedule to begin their mandatory minicamp Tuesday, so team observers will get their first real chance to see what Oakland’s new defensive front looks like. Last year, rookie defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. came on strong before an injury, but he should be back. Defensive tackles Justin Ellis and Dan Williams are solid. And rookie defensive ends Jihad Ward and linebacker Shilique Calhoun have exciting potential. A defense that just a few years ago was weak and thin now appears strong and deep.
Plus, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will have his system in place for a second straight year. Veterans should be much more comfortable in it in 2016.
Norton says he believes Mack and Irvin can help the whole defense improve significantly.
“The really good players know how to make players around them better,” Norton told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It can’t just be Khalil. It has to be Bruce, it has to be all the guys up front. The group, as a whole, has to take the same leap that Khalil does. Khalil has to learn how to bring everybody with him.”