It didn’t really hit me until I saw it on paper.
Yes, I printed it out.
On Monday, the Raiders released a depth chart to kick off their first game week of the season – they open their preseason Saturday night at the Coliseum. It was one of those depth charts that you’re not supposed to read into – loose and probably put together by an intern at 4 a.m.
Normally when one hits my inbox, I quickly scan over and go on with my day.
But not this time.
After a few weeks of looking at a numerical roster, it was downright jarring to see this team’s defensive line depth actually grouped together.
And no, not in a good way.
Last year the Raiders registered 13 sacks, one of the lowest totals in NFL history – and only 79 percent worse than the second-worst team in the league! – and registered pressure on 22 percent of snaps, also an NFL low.
My presumption heading into training camp was that the Raiders would have a better pass rush this season because I could not fathom how things could get worse.
But now that I’m looking at this depth chart, and given what I’ve seen in my trips to Napa so far, I’m starting to revise that presumption. Simply put: I’m having a hard time seeing how things will become much better with this pass rush. And if the Raiders are to have anything close to a respectable defense in 2019, much better might still not be enough.
There are 16 players vying for spots along the Raiders’ four-man defensive front per this depth chart. And of course, not all of these players will make the team – the Raiders will likely keep nine, maybe 10 – and there might be some late-in-camp additions of players cut elsewhere.
But, for all intents and purposes, these are the guys.
And it is hardly an inspiring group.
The 16 players listed on Monday’s depth chart have played 444 games in the NFL, starting 208 of those contests.
They have a grand total of 43.5 career sacks.
For reference, that’s as many sacks as now-Panthers defensive end Bruce Irvin has in 106 career games (78 starts).
And I’m sorry, but it must be done: Khalil Mack has 49 sacks in his last 61 games.
To be fair, there are four rookies on the depth chart. They are young players who are yet to take an NFL snap, for better or for worse. Maybe defensive end and No. 4 overall pick Clelin Ferrell hits the ground running and is able to strike fear into the hearts of quarterbacks in the AFC West and beyond. He was pretty good at Clemson, after all, racking up 27 sacks in three seasons. Saturday would be a good time for him to start flashing that kind of potential, if it’s immediately available.
The Raiders keep pushing Maxx Crosby positivity in training camp, too. They like what they see in the kid out of Eastern Michigan – the understated Paul Guenther even called him a “pleasant surprise”. High praise.
Because he’s a Sparq score stud, I’m not going to write him off as an immediate impact player, but I will carry plenty of skepticism about relying on a fourth-round draft pick in Week 1.
Hey, maybe Arden Key makes a jump in year two. And everyone likes Mo Hurst, who accounted for 30 percent of the Raiders’ sacks last year as a 3-technique. Perhaps he’s poised for a breakout season that puts him on the national radar.
This is me trying to be optimistic. It’s August, after all.
But when that emotion wears off, I’m left asking: Is the addition of Benson Mayowa – I’ll give you a moment to look him up – enough to change the Raiders’ fortunes? (I never thought I’d type that sentence.)
The Raiders better hope so and they better be working night and day to make sure that’s the case. Because if not – if Ferrell still has a lot to learn, Crosby isn’t surprising to NFL offensive linemen, Key doesn’t have what it takes, and Hurst doesn’t become one of the best at his position in the NFL – Gruden’s crew is going to be in big trouble.