By Rick Drummond, Profootballfocus.com
It would be hard to argue that this wasn’t the most outstanding position group for the 2010 Oakland Raiders (though the running backs could make a case for themselves.) With impact performances coming from all spots along this 4-man front, a foundation was established for an improved defense and some enthusiasm about the future.
In a 4-3 defense, there is typically a pass-rushing force coming off one edge or the other and some combo of blocker-eating big bodies in the middle. Interestingly, the final version of the Raider D-line boasted two pass-rushing beasts inside and two run-stuffing edge players.
For veterans Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, the battle cry clearly was not “Let’s keep Rolando clean!” The two did not spend much time occupying blockers as they fully embraced the “cut it loose” mentality and spent the season slicing through gaps. As a result, both ranked among the top four pass-rushing DT’s in the league as rated by profootballfocus.com. Their combined 83 QB disruptions (sacks+hits+pressures+batted passes) were the best by any NFL duo.
Playing on the ends, youngsters Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston, were two of the NFL’s top ten 4-3 DE run stoppers (again as graded by PFF.) They excelled at holding their edges, stringing runs to the sideline, and squeezing down running lanes when the ball went inside. When given the chance to get after the QB, they did that well too, totaling 69 QB disruptions between them.
So many ingredients went into making this line the success that it was, but perhaps even more important than the assembled parts was bringing Mike Waufle back as the D-line coach. Waufle captured the minds of this group, used players in well-defined roles, and rotated them with confidence. Getting each to fully believe and play like they were a valuable and unique contributor was an achievement that could get overlooked, but shouldn’t.
As of this writing, the Raiders have not landed their next defensive coordinator but we do know that Waufle will be around next season – as the D-Line coach or possibly serving as the DC himself.
DT Richard Seymour *Pro-Bowl
Experience: 10 seasons, signed through: was Franchise Player, FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 13 starts, 642 snaps (284 run / 356 pass), 38 QB disruptions, 36 stops, 8 penalties
PFF grades: overall +18.8, run D +9.4, pass rush +14.0 (#4 DT in NFL)
Seymour earned his sixth Pro Bowl selection and was viewed by most as the Raiders’ defensive MVP in 2010. The leadership and consistently outstanding play he brought each week was invaluable to a re-shaped defense that featured young players in prominent roles. For the D-line specifically, Seymour provided a focal point as the top of the hierarchy that allowed each of the others to simply do their jobs without taking on extra attention – be that in the media or in opponents’ game plans.
Lining up as the right defensive tackle, he regularly had his way with the left guards he faced – including some of the best in the game: Kris Diehlman, Wade Smith, Brian Waters, to name a few. He constantly knifed into offensive backfields – hardly slowed by opponents draped on his shoulders – to greet ball carriers before they got started and to startle passers as they finished their drops.
Seymour appeared to relish his role as a leader and a cornerstone for a Raider franchise looking for a turnaround. He showed up to camp early with the rookies and maintained his enthusiasm all season. He was tagged as the Franchise Player for 2010 and should be again in 2011 if a long term deal isn’t reached. I fully expect him to return to Raiders one way or another and to finish his career in Oakland.
DT Tommy Kelly *Pro Bowl
Experience: 6 seasons, signed through: 2014
2010: 16 starts, 859 snaps (403 run / 451 pass), 45 QB disruptions, 27 stops, 12 penalties
PFF grades: overall +11.1, run D +2.4, pass rush +15.5 (#3 DT in NFL)
Slimmed down, determined, and eager to change some minds, Tommy Kelly entered 2010 a new man and with Seymour at his side, he was set loose. He split so many double teams so quickly, I nearly wore out my DVR while running back all of his “I’ve got to see that again” plays. His impact was noted around the league and Kelly was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.
The 2010 Tommy Kelly was the player the Raiders though he could be (though initially they envisioned him doing it in the other tackle spot.) He led all DT’s in QB disruptions while managing to be an above average run defender too. Somehow, he kept surprising opponents with his quickness and was able to slash past blockers that should have been prepared to handle him after seeing his work in the early part of the season.
He’s locked in with the long contract he signed a few years back and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Even in the unlikely event that the team decides to jump to a 3-4 defense, Kelly will have a home with the Raiders, though he’d probably be best suited for an end position if that was the case.
DT John Henderson
Experience: 9 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010: 2 starts, 272 snaps (162 run / 109 pass), 9 QB disruptions, 24 stops, 1 penalty
PFF grades: overall +22.6, run D +21.0 (#3 DT in NFL), pass rush +1.7
Henderson missed seven games in the middle of the season with a foot injury, but when he was present, there were few better run-stuffers in the NFL. Big John provided the situational, hold-the-line counter to the Seymour-Kelly upfield combo and another veteran presence in the middle of the Raider D.
His one-year contract is done, and his performance this season showed the NFL that he can still dominate when used appropriately, so he’ll likely get some attention as a free agent. If the team and he decide to give it another go in 2011 (why wouldn’t they?) expect him to continue on as a part time, early down, short yardage option.
DT Desmond Bryant
Experience: 2 seasons, signed through: Exclusive Rights Free Agent in 2011
2010: 0 starts, 333 snaps (171 run / 161 pass), 12 QB disruptions, 18 stops, 2 penalties
PFF grades: overall +11.3, run D +11.1, pass rush +0.8
The undrafted defensive tackle from Harvard made strides in his second season and finished 2010 particularly strong. Bryant has turned out to be a reliable alternative at tackle when spelling the starters and, late in the season, put his versatility on display by filling in at defensive end.
In Bryant, the Raiders have a young, talented, and affordable depth player that they can count on. He’ll remain a Raider and may even see a few more snaps next season.
DE Matt Shaughnessy
Experience: 2 seasons, signed through: 2012
2010: 8 starts, 649 snaps (354 run / 290 pass), 29 QB disruptions, 36 stops, 4 penalties
PFF grades: overall +15.3, run D +14.3 (#5 4-3 DE in NFL), pass rush +3.3
Shaughnessy began his sophomore season splitting time in a rotation with Trevor Scott but was playing himself into a larger role even before Scott was lost to injury in Week 11. He made a name for himself this season as a force against the run. Primarily lined up as the right defensive end, he gave no ground, controlled the massive left tackles that tried to move him, and showed the ability to keep an arm free and use it to bring down runners.
He had a noteworthy high-low experience in back-to-back forgettable midseason games for the Raiders. An excellent personal day (as expected) against Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Scott was followed by his first start – an 80-snap day against Miami and Jake Long – and his worst day of the season. Looking beyond those spikes, Shaughnessy played consistently well.
Not to be lost in his success as a run defender, he quietly collected eight sacks and gave the coaching staff more confidence in using him as an every down player. He remains under contract for two more seasons and should be given the chance to build on this breakout season as the starter to open 2011.
DE Lamarr Houston
Experience: 1 season, signed through: 2013
2010: 15 starts, 741 snaps (406 run / 332 pass), 40 QB disruptions, 33 stops, 6 penalties
PFF grades: overall +9.1, run D +10.6 (#10 4-3 DE in NFL), pass rush +3.4
Houston has been named to just about every All-Rookie team out there and deserves every mention he gets. The fire and energy he brings was evident from the start and the guy genuinely looks like he’s doing it right and having fun playing the game. If any young Raider inspires memories of the old-time John Madden “be on time, pay attention, and play like hell when I tell you to” Raiders, Houston is the guy.
Consistently strong against the run, he also enjoyed some very good games as a pass rusher and put together a couple of performances that were visions of what he can be – dominant. He was tenacious, fearless, and versatile – bouncing inside when needed for spot duty or for an entire game. There isn’t a tight end in the league that can move him and if he can avoid being latched onto by long-armed right tackles, he’s too quick for them to handle too.
Houston made a splash as a rookie starter and set the bar high for himself. He’ll have to work to get his play to a steady level, but there’s no doubt that he’ll put that work in. Judging by his play on the field and his demeanor off of it, this is a star in the making … and hopefully a career Raider.
DE Trevor Scott
Experience: 3 seasons, signed through: 2011
2010: 13 starts, 487 snaps (208 run / 233 pass rush / 46 cover), 24 QB disruptions, 11 stops, 4 penalties
PFF grades: overall +2.0, run D -1.7, pass rush +4.3, cover 0.0
Scott bounced between the defensive end and weakside linebacker spots in 2010. He was expected to be at LB when the season began, but when Quentin Groves was named the starter there, Scott landed in a rotation with Shaughnessy and Houston and got time on each end of the line. When Groves went down with an injury, Scott slid back to take on that job for a few games. After a return to defensive end, a knee injury against Pittsburgh ended his season.
Scott had previously proven himself to be a slippery pass rusher with a knack for finding the quarterback, though this season he didn’t have the same success. When at linebacker, he looked comfortable in space and generally maneuvered himself into good leverage positions, but was not an attacker. His versatility is a plus, but being good at both positions and great at neither may equal back-up duty for Scott going forward. His best chance to compete for a starting gig next season will be at the weakside linebacker spot.
DE Jarvis Moss
Experience: 4 seasons, signed through: FREE AGENT in 2011
2010 (with Raiders): 0 starts, 36 snaps (10 run / 25 pass), 8 QB disruptions, 1 penalty
PFF grades: overall +2.1, run D -1.0, pass rush +4.5
The Raiders signed Moss for depth after Trevor Scott was placed on injured reserve. He was with the team for the final six games, sat out the first, played briefly in the next four, and got in for 23 snaps in the finale at Kansas City. In that game, the former first round pick showed that he had something to offer, collecting a pair of sacks and four other QB disruptions.
Moss could return to compete for a pass-rushing specialist role in 2011, though I don’t expect there to be much room for a player that can only contribute in that way.
** Special mention **
Kamerion Wimbley’s season will be reviewed when we get to the linebacker group, but he deserves at least a quick shout here. Wimbley put his hand in the dirt and joined the line for nearly every nickel situation this season. His presence added a much needed element to this line – speed off of the edge. In 283 snaps as a pass rusher, he generated 36 QB disruptions and led the team in sacks.