Now, before we get into the defensive starters, we need to discuss defensive formation. As I did with the offense, I will be giving a sub package as the starters because teams in the NFL play far more snaps in sub packages than in their base formation. Plus, it makes things easier for a Raiders defense that will show a 3-4, a 4-3 and a 5-2 at times. I am going to look at a defensive sub package that has four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
DE: Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin - Now, it should be noted that Irvin is more of a linebacker than defensive end and Khalil Mack can play both positions. But more often than not when in a sub package, these two will be edge rushers, regardless of whether or not they start with their hand in the dirt.
DT: Mario Edwards, Jr., Eddie Vanderdoes - And right away, we get into the complexities of NFL packages. Mario Edwards, Jr. is an easy one to understand. An absolute beast who can destroy a quarterback’s pocket, the only thing that has held Mario Edwards, Jr. back are his injuries. Now, as for Vanderdoes, I think it’s likely we see as much if not more of Justin Ellis as Vanderdoes at defensive tackle. But in sub packages, I expect Vanderdoes and Jihad Ward to rotate at DT to provide more pressure and I believe Vanderdoes will beat out Ward for more playing time and thus is a “starter” in the sub package.
LB: Jelani Jenkins, Cory James - This is the position that is hands down the most difficult to predict. Jelani Jenkins, Cory James, Marquel Lee and a handful of other prospects will all be competing for playing time at linebacker and as of now, there really isn’t anyone who is heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition. To be perfectly honest, any guess is as good as mine when it comes to linebacker. I went with Jenkins because when healthy, he’s probably the most talented linebacker on the team not named Mack or Irvin. It’s just that he’s never healthy. As for James, I really liked what I saw from him at times last year and am hopeful he’s improved enough to earn more time.
CB: Sean Smith, David Amerson, Gareon Conley - I’ve said it many times and to this point, nothing has changed my mind. I believe Sean Smith and David Amerson will start the year on the outside at corner. Whether or not they finish the year there is a different question. But for now, with the money they are being paid, the Raiders will want to see if they can turn things around. As for nickel, at the moment T.J. Carrie has a leg up on Conley, but I imagine it won’t last long, assuming Conley doesn’t have legal problems. He might not end up a starter on day one on the outside, but Conley is the best corner on this team.
S: Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson - I really wish I could list Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu. Those two are the safeties of the future for the Raiders and I for one can’t wait to see how well they play together. Unfortunately, as much of a gifted freak as Melifonwu is, he also appears to be fairly raw and not ready to start right away. I’ve talked about how he will definitely see the field and get playing time but likely not as a starter in week one. Nelson doesn’t have a long time left in his football career, but he should be a starter at the beginning of at least one more season. We will see if he’s a starter by the end.