When the Oakland Raiders were pursuing Terrance Knighton and eventually signed Dan Williams, many questioned whether the move made much sense. After all, the Raiders spent a fourth round draft pick in 2014 on Justin Ellis, a guy who is very similar to both Knighton and Williams. And despite being a mid-round pick, Ellis played like he was drafted in one of the first two rounds and appears to still have a lot of room to improve.
Some worried that bringing in Williams would mean less snaps for Ellis and would potentially impact his growth as a player. This concern was based on the assumption that Williams and Ellis would split time while playing along side veteran Antonio Smith, but head coach Jack Del Rio put that fear to rest on Tuesday:
There’s no reason they can’t be on the field at the same time … it starts in the trenches in this game.
This makes a ton of sense for the Raiders. First of all, the 33-year-old Smith showed in 2014 that he is no longer a three-down player. He struggled massively on early downs against the run while playing decently against the pass in later downs. Pro Football Focus gave Smith a shameful -20.0 against the run but a pretty good score of +18.3 against the pass. Meanwhile, Williams graded out as a +13.7 against the run while putting up a decent rating of +3.o as a pass rusher.
Smith showed enough on passing downs to keep him from getting included in all of those cuts that the Raiders made early in the offseason, but he isn’t suited to be a starter anymore. Using Ellis and Williams as the starters while using Smith sparingly and only in obvious passing situations enables the Raiders to still squeeze the last bits of productivity out of Smith while presenting a starting duo of defensive tackles that teams will have serious difficulties running against.
The idea that Ellis and Williams will only work in a rotation never made sense. Del Rio has now confirmed that he is in no way going to limit himself or his team by refusing to play two guys at the same time, even if their styles are similar.