Skip to main content

Las Vegas Raiders defense: Realistic expectations for 2022

Moe Moton

This offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders’ fan base has expressed a lot of excitement for the offense with the addition of wide receiver Davante Adams, but the team made wholesale changes on defense.

With first-year defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, the Raiders have a new-look front line with the exception of Johnathan Hankins and Kendal Vickers. They parted ways with linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, who signed with the team and started together in 2020. The coaching staff must replace Casey Hayward, who shored up the boundary as the team’s top cornerback.

We can only guess how Graham will use his personnel. He’s only served as a defensive coordinator for three seasons (two with the New York Giants and one with the Miami Dolphins). The 43-year-old play-caller isn’t a copy-and-paste game-planner who’s afraid to mix things up with different looks and formations either—hence his intention to be “multiple” with alignments.

Nonetheless, with the makeup of the roster, a few things stand out as realistic expectations for the defense in 2022. Let’s take look at each level of the unit and project what might happen during the season.

Related: Las Vegas Raiders training camp preview

Defensive line: Matthew Butler, Neil Farrell Jr. take over prominent starting roles

las vegas raiders'matthew butler
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, the new regime nearly turned over the entire defensive line group. Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson and Darius Philon played well under former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, but Graham has a different vision.

Philon tore his patellar tendon in the 2021 regular-season finale. In April, the Raiders hosted him for a visit, but they didn’t re-sign him.

Vegas selected Neil Farrell Jr. and Matthew Butler in the fourth and fifth rounds of the 2022 draft, respectively. Even though they’re middle-round picks, both interior defenders will have opportunities to play big roles.

Bilal Nichols signed a two-year, $11 million deal ($7.1 million guaranteed), so he’ll likely start along the front, but the other two spots may be up for grabs.

(Matthew) Butler could beat Vernon Butler for one position. The veteran defensive tackle didn’t establish himself with the Buffalo Bills over the last two years, recording 29 tackles, five for loss in 29 games (10 starts). Don’t assume he makes the 53-man roster after two years of minimal productivity. The rookie fifth-rounder could open the season with the first unit.

Farrell would have to beat out Hankins, which may not happen over the summer. However, if the rookie and the veteran have a close battle through training camp, the coaching staff may be intrigued by the younger nose tackle’s upside.

By December, we might see a defensive line that features Nichols, Farrell and Butler as the Raiders go with a full-blown youth movement on the interior.  

Related: 6 Las Vegas Raiders over/under predictions for 2022

Linebacker: Jayon Brown emerges for the Las Vegas Raiders

jayon brown, las vegas raiders
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If Denzel Perryman can stay healthy, expect him to lead the defense in tackles. But he’s not going to help much in coverage. Though the seventh-year veteran had a Pro Bowl 2021 campaign, he allowed a 78.8 percent completion rate, a 114.1 passer rating and five touchdowns in coverage.

Perryman has been a decent two-down linebacker, but the defense needs a complete second-level defender to help cover running backs, tight ends and slot receivers.

Divine Deablo showed some flashes at the end of the last season, but Jayon Brown should hit the ground running under Graham. He has five years of experience as a versatile three-down defender who’s shown the ability to diagnose run plays, cover the shallow areas of the field in passing situations and attack the pocket.

In 2018, with the Tennessee Titans, Brown had his best season, logging 97 tackles, eight for loss, six sacks, six pass breakups and a pick-six. In that year, he played in an aggressive defense that ranked ninth in blitzes per dropback (29.8 percent).

Under Graham, the Giants blitzed on 25 percent and 26.9 percent of dropbacks in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Perhaps, he uses Brown’s quickness to supplement the pass rush and forced hurried throws.

While on the field for at least 81 percent of the defensive snaps between 2018 and 2019, Brown didn’t allow a touchdown. In 66 games (39 starts), he’s registered 28 pass breakups and four interceptions. Because of his versatile skill set, the 27-year-old could emerge as the Raiders’ best linebacker in 2022.

Related: Trio of Las Vegas Raiders defensive backs head into a make-or-break 2022 season

Secondary: Tre’von Moehrig takes a significant leap in Year 2

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tre’von Moehrig had a promising rookie campaign. He let a few takeaways get away from him, but overall, the TCU product did enough to feel comfortable about his potential growth.

Last year, Moehrig started in all 17 games, logging 55 tackles, six pass breakups and an interception while allowing a 58.3 percent completion rate, a 92.5 passer rating and two touchdowns in coverage. That’s not bad for a rookie in a defense that ranked 26th in scoring and 14th in yards allowed.

The Raiders sorely need a playmaker who can force turnovers, and Moehrig has the tools to fit the bill. Between 2019 and 2020 as a collegian, he recorded 20 pass breakups and six interceptions.

Moehrig must cut down on missed tackles (14.1 percent as a rookie), but he should get his hands on more passes over the top. The 6’2″, 202-pound safety tracks the ball well and has the speed to close open passing windows in the secondary. He’s the best bet to lead the Raiders in interceptions with three or four in 2022.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.