The Las Vegas Raiders went into the 2022 offseason with a major need on the interior of their defensive line and 10 weeks into the 2022 campaign, they’re still in search of a defensive tackle who can generate pressure up the middle. So, no one should be surprised about the team’s decision to claim Jerry Tillery off waivers.
This past offseason, the Raiders signed Bilal Nichols to a two-year, $11 million deal ($7.1 million guaranteed), but he’s yet to showcase his ability to push the pocket with consistency. With his contract value, you’d expect more of a needle mover, but the fifth-year pro has just 16 tackles, one for loss and six pressures.
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Because edge-rusher Chandler Jones has been a massive disappointment on a three-year, $51 million deal, the Raiders need another defensive lineman who can threaten the pocket to take some of the pass-rushing burden off of Maxx Crosby, who’s the only player on the roster with multiple sacks. Going into Week 11, the Raiders have generated the fourth-lowest pressure rate leaguewide at 16.4 percent.
What Jerry Tillery offers to Raiders defense
Tillery can inject some life into the Vegas’ defense on passing downs.
In four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Tillery has shown the ability to get after the quarterback. With his lean frame (6-6, 295 pounds), he flashes enough quickness to command attention, which may help unlock edge rushers. The 2019 first-rounder recorded 43 pressures between the 2020 and 2021 campaigns.
In terms of schematic fit, Tillery can line up as a 3-technique defensive tackle in an even-man front or a two-gap defender for odd-man front lines, which allows him to play in multiple alignments—a sticking point in Patrick Graham’s system.
If Tillery provides some pop to the Raiders’ interior pass rush, they can probably re-sign him on a modest deal next offseason to avoid overpaying for a veteran free agent at a non-premium position.
Tillery’s shortcomings, rotational role with the Chargers
On the flip side, Tillery isn’t the most complete interior defender. He can be hit-or-miss as a run-stuffer. At times, 300-plus-pound guards will put him on his backside. Secondly, the former Chargers defensive lineman has missed at least 11.1 percent of his tackles every year since the 2020 season. In 2020, he whiffed on 23.1 percent of his tackles.
With the addition of Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, Tillery saw a reduction in his snap count, dropping from 72-plus percent of the defensive plays to 43 percent this season. Now, he goes to a young unit that needs his skill set. As a former first-rounder who turned 26 years old in October, he’s a solid pickup as a potential cheap solution for Vegas’ subpar interior pass rush.
Influence on young Las Vegas Raiders defense
Assuming Neil Farrell Jr. develops into a reliable run-stuffer, the rookie fourth-rounder and Tillery could become a complementary pair in even and odd-man fronts if Nichols continues to underwhelm while on the field for about two-thirds of the snaps.
Of course, Farrell must learn to do things the right way on head coach Josh McDaniels’ watch to avoid the healthy inactive list on game day. The same goes for rookie fifth-round defensive tackle Matthew Butler.
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Nonetheless, as the Raiders’ rookie defensive tackles learn to become professionals, Tillery can reinvent himself and reach his potential as a top pick from Notre Dame three years ago.
Crosby needs someone to help him in his pursuit of the quarterback. Perhaps the Raiders stumbled upon a waiver-wire gem who sticks around for a few years.
Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.