The Raiders made several moves this offseason to bolster their defensive line. They drafted Clelin Ferrell with their top pick, then added another defensive end, Maxx Crosby, in the fourth round.
But a player already on the roster from 2018 could also add a boost.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a second-round pick out of Ohio State by the New York Giants in 2013, looks much improved in his first Raiders training camp.
Hankins signed with the Raiders two weeks into last season’s regular schedule and started 14 games for Oakland. He was in on 36 tackles a year ago. Hankins had been a fulltime starter for the Giants for three seasons, and then the Colts in 2017 before his release by Indianapolis.
Now, he’s getting new life with the Raiders who signed him to a two-year deal recently.
Hankins showed up to camp about 12 pounds lighter than last season, at 318, and is now playing so well in scrimmages and drills that head coach Jon Gruden told reporters this week that Hankins “might be the most improved player on our team.” Hankins says he's also benefitting from a full offseason program with the Raiders.
Raiders defensive line coach Brentson Buckner told the San Francisco Chronicle he had urged Hankins to come to camp in better shape to make himself a more effective player.
Said Buckner: “What I told Hank this spring is, ‘Don’t let people just tell you you’re a big guy, you’re a nose guard. Be a big guy that can move.' He got himself in physical shape and he’s showing a lot of quickness and explosion.”
For now, Hankins is penciled in as a starter at defensive tackle, with Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall also expected to start or get plenty of opportunities inside.
Hankins certainly has shown he can be a high-impact player. In 2014 as a 16-game starter for the Giants, he had a career-high seven sacks, along with 51 tackles and 12 quarterback hits.
A strong inside push from Hankins, Hurst and Hall – with outside pressure from Ferrell, Arden Key and Crosby – could be an important factor in improving Oakland’s pass rush in 2019.