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NFL Draft

3 Defensive Free Agents Raiders Should Target

  • The Draft Network
  • March 12, 2021
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I previously wrote about three free agents on the offensive side of the football the Las Vegas Raiders should target, and now it's time to turn our focus to the defense. As the Raiders plan their strategy of attack for free agency, I fully expect them to prioritize adding defensive talent to this roster. The team struggled mightily last year on defense, allowing the third-most points per game. Because of their defensive struggles, the team missed the postseason for the fourth straight season, even though their offense was amongst the league's best.

What made last year’s struggles on defense so painful was that head coach Jon Gruden and general Mike Mayock have invested some serious draft capital and money in free agency in improving the unit—but to no avail. Last year in free agency, the team was extremely active in the market and signed some key free agents on the defensive side of the football. The Raiders' 2020 free agent class was headlined by linebacker Cory Littleton who came over from the Los Angeles Rams. Littleton was a major disappointment in his first year with the Raiders and failed to display the range and playmaking ability he showed in his career in Los Angeles. Other free agents like linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive end Carl Nassib, and defensive tackle Maliek Collins all had played meaningful snaps last season but failed to make a significant impact.

While the Raiders may have swung and missed on last year’s defensive free agent class, that shouldn’t deter them from picking up the bat again and swinging for the fences this year. This offense is ready to compete and win big, and it's time the defense holds up their end of the bargain.

Here are three free agents on the defensive side of the football the Raiders should target on March 17. 

Shaquil Barrett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Raiders desperately need more pass-rushing help after finishing near the bottom of the league in sacks and quarterback pressures. The team has a good player in defensive end Maxx Crosby, but the rest of the unit is sorely lacking playmakers. In new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme, he utilizes a ton of base 4-3 playing mainly Cover 3. Bradley rarely blitzes and traditionally relies on his front four getting to the quarterback, and because of this, the Raiders must prioritize finding an edge rusher either through the draft or free agency. If the team decides to go the free agent route, why not go big and sign the best sack artist available in Tampa’s Shaquil Barrett? While Tampa Bay would surely love to keep Barrett, he has made it clear that he wants to capitalize on his success and sign a lucrative long-term deal. Over the last two seasons, Barrett has recorded 31.5 sacks and has the speed and explosiveness off the edge that makes him a nightmare for opposing tackles to block. He would be a perfect fit for the LEO position in Bradley’s defense. 

Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings

One of the most important positions in Bradley’s scheme is free safety because he does utilize so much Cover 3 that you need a safety that has range and coverage ability to play as a single-high defender. Unfortunately for the Raiders, that is something they currently do not have on their roster. Strong safety Johnathan Abram is best suited playing near the line of scrimmage, and the team recently released Lamarcus Joyner, leaving a bigger hole at the position. Anthony Harris would be a great addition to this Raiders secondary and he is someone who has the range, instincts, and ball skills to thrive as a single-high safety playing in the deep third. Harris had an outstanding season in 2019, recording seven interceptions. He saw his play decline in 2020 but so did the Vikings defense overall, and Harris still flashed the talent that made him one of the best ball-hawks in the league. 

K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle Seahawks

In this scenario, we get to reunite K.J. Wright with his former defensive coordinator. The Raiders are sorely needing more from their linebackers, and even though the team signed Littleton and Kwiatkoski, I expect them to add one or two more this offseason. Wright may no longer be the player he once was in man coverage, but he is still a very productive player against the run and is more than capable of handling his assignments in zone. Wright will bring leadership and toughness to the Raiders' defense and will show these young defenders how to play winning football. 

BONUS: One player who I really hope the Raiders sign is cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman is obviously coming off a season riddled by injuries, but I believe he can be a huge asset to this team in terms of changing the culture and mentoring these young corners. The Raiders have invested high draft capital at the corner position in Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen and bringing in Sherman to show these young talented corners the ropes is well worth whatever the team would have to pay him. I also know Sherman and Bradley are close, so this match would make a lot of sense. 

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