Before the new league year starts on March 11, let’s look back and take stock of what happened in 2013. The Raiders defense started the season strong, only to fade quickly as the year wore on. Part of that was due to a severe lack of depth and top-end talent throughout the defensive roster.
Heading into the offseason, all four of the Raiders’ starting defensive linemen — Lamarr Houston, Justin Hunter, Pat Sims and Vance Walker — will all be free agents. Both starting corners — Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins — will also be free agents, as will starting free safety Charles Woodson. Only Tyvon Branch and linebackers Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach and Sio Moore are on contract for next season.
With a large amount of turnover expected in the roster, it is good to know what did and didn’t work in 2013. To get an idea, let’s take a look at the best and worst players on the Raiders defense last season.
The worst: Jason Hunter, defensive end
If that name does not sound very familiar to you, it’s because even though Hunter was a starter, he tallied an impressively impotent 19 solo tackles on the season. Literally every member of the starting defense recorded more tackles than Hunter, including every member of the secondary and three backups defensive backs.
Hunter was the invisible member of the Raiders defense. One could easily forget he was even on the team since his name was never called and he was never seen making a play. While the defense had its moments early in the season, Hunter had no moments at any time in the year. General manager Reggie McKenzie could probably blindly sign someone in free agency who would make a bigger impact than Hunter in 2013. Luckily for the Raiders, he was signed to a cheap one-year deal and will not be wearing the silver and black in 2014.
The best player on the defense was the bookend opposite Hunter, Lamarr Houston. After being asked to move out of his natural position, Houston had a good year playing right defensive end as the team’s primary pass rusher. While he did not excel at hunting the quarterback, finishing with a career high six sacks, he was still the best player on defense all season long.
Houston was fifth on the team in tackles, first in sacks and second in tackles for a loss. Aside from his sacks, he had 41 quarterback hurries and 16 quarterback hits. While not anything to write home about, Houston is not a pass rushing defensive end and was being asked to do something he does not excel at. On the other hand, he was a force in defending the run, receiving easily the highest run defense grade by Pro Football Focus of anyone on the team.
Houston also proved himself once again to be a hardy end, capable of playing a majority of the defensive snaps without much rest. While defensive tackle Pat Sims also had a very good year for the Raiders, he was on the field for just over half of the number of plays that Houston was. Meanwhile, Houston played the sixth most snaps of anyone on the defensive side of the ball.
Both Houston and Hunter will be free agents this offseason. There is no question that Hunter will be allowed to walk away from the team, but Houston is a much more complicated issue. He was the best player on defense, but given the fact that he is not a pass rushing end, it is hard to justify giving him a huge contract. However, that is exactly what he and his agent are looking for. With McKenzie’s unwillingness to overspend on a player, there is a good chance the Raiders see Houston sign with another team unless McKenzie decides to use the franchise tag on him.