Raiders Coach Gives the Real Reason Why Defensive Line Will Be Incredible in 2024

The Las Vegas Raiders' defensive line is one of the best in the league, touting names like Maxx Crosby, Christian Wilkins and Malcolm Koonce. But to Raiders defensive line coach Rob Leonard, it won't be talent that makes the front line special.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen tries to jump over the Raiders defensive line near the end zone.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen tries to jump over the Raiders defensive line near the end zone. / Jamie Germano / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Las Vegas Raiders defensive line coach Rob Leonard had plenty to like about his men at the front of the defense when the 2023 season ended. All-Pro Maxx Crosby was just that, Malcolm Koonce seemingly broke out, and it looked like things were beginning to click for rookie Tyree Wilson.

Then, in March, Leonard is handed manna in the form of defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Leonard's defensive line has begun to receive more widespread attention throughout the league, some touting the merits that were already there before Wilkins' arrival. One thing is certain -- Leonard gets to work with a group that is a position coach's dream in regard to ability and depth.

"It's one of the best groups I've been around 12 years," Leonard said at a mandatory minicamp press conference this week. "It's a lot of fun, but for me, what's crazy is it's the same group plus [Wilkins] from last year. So, last year [I] remember what people were saying as well going into the season -- John Jenkins and Adam Butler were like, 'camp bodies'. So I mean, you add a guy they're familiar with, and it's a lot of fun to come to work every day."

For Leonard, getting Jenkins and Butler back for 2024 is "everything." Jenkins and Butler proved to effective in the interior for the Silver and Black front.

At 34 years old, Jenkins was an effective space-eater and managed to register a career-best 40 solo tackles. That number was good enough for eighth among all interior defenders in 2023. Butler proved more effective in pass rush situations, tallying six sacks and earning an above-average Pro Football Focus pass rush grade of 70.2.

Factor in all of the working parts of the variable defensive fronts the Raiders will use in 2024. All-Pro Maxx Crosby, Malcolm Koonce, who had a breakout 2023 campaign, and second-year pass rusher Tyree Wilson, who showed flashes near the end of last season.

Leonard's defensive front is a team of it's own, and arguably the best position group the Raiders can tout.

"We're building a team," Leonard said. "Not just a group of talent. So their traits, their personalities, all play off each other. They balance each other [out] really well which creates infectious energy and it's a lot of fun."

Leonard coached Wilkins when he was with the Miami Dolphins. He said that he sees a lot of growth in Wilkins, and likened his trajectory to Crosby, battling through rookie struggles to becoming an elite player.

"That's like, what it's all about as a coach," Leonard said. "Seeing that come on, and they take ownership of it. That's awesome."

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Michael France

MICHAEL FRANCE