Film Study: Did Raiders find future star in DE Crosby?

After piling up four sacks Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders rookie defensive end Maxx Crosby has 6.5 this season, all since Week 5.

That’s tied — with Joey Bosa — for sixth in the NFL over that span.

A fourth-round pick from Eastern Michigan, Crosby is certainly outplaying his draft status. Let’s dig into the tape to explore what he’s done, and what he could become.

Sunday’s four-pack

Four-sack games inherently require some luck, but Crosby’s quartet was no fluke. His third sack was easy (he was unblocked off a Bengals bootleg) but the others were earned with nifty moves.

First, Crosby cross-chopped past Bengals left tackle John Jerry, using his left (inside) hand to “chop” Jerry’s left (outside) arm downward. That made Jerry lurch forward and cleared the edge for Crosby to dip around it.

Interior pressure caused Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley to fade and drift to his right, making Crosby’s angle easier, and he maximized the opportunity by stripping Finley.

Two plays into the fourth quarter, Crosby victimized Jerry in a different way. Jerry helped briefly on interior rusher Dion Jordan, then kicked out to Crosby, who exploited the late movement. Crosby bull-rushed to maintain Jerry’s momentum upfield — getting Jerry hopping on one foot — before shedding inside to wrap up Finley.

Crosby’s final sack was ad-libbed on the Bengals’ second-to-last play. Lined up opposite Jerry, Crosby saw running back Giovani Bernard aligned to chip him outside. When Bernard did, Crosby quickly redirected inside, looping around defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and coming free to snare Finley’s legs.

This wasn’t a planned stunt (or “game”) — Hurst’s rush was traditional — but rather a “natural game” that gave Jerry no chance. Crosby’s rush would have been picked up if the center slid his way, and Finley could have escaped left (Crosby’s responsibility to contain). But the sudden, instinctive move paid off.

Crosby disrupted four other dropbacks — two with hand-swipe-to-rip moves outside where Finley stepped up and away; one bull rush into a club-rip move outside to get a hand on Finley; and a bull rush that flushed Finley before the game-sealing interception.

Recognition in run defense

Despite the sacks, Crosby was exploited at times by the Bengals’ ground game, which entered ranked 29th in yards per carry (3.33).

Most came on perimeter runs. On three pitches/sweeps, Crosby recognized late and was pinned inside, including a 30-yard run — the Bengals’ longest rush all season. Likewise, he was slow off the snap and late recognizing an 18-yard jet sweep his way.

Crosby also way overpursued from the backside of Joe Mixon’s 3-yard touchdown run, loping down the line instead of closing Mixon’s angle. He should have had a tackle for loss but instead lost contain.

These mistakes are common for rookies, but not the norm for Crosby. Given his shakiness as a run defender in college, he’s actually impressed in that area in the pros.

Physical and technical development

Perhaps most surprising about Crosby’s rookie season is how quickly he’s changed his body.

Crosby said he finished his final college season at 240 pounds, and it showed in his limited play strength, both as a bull rusher and run defender. He was up to 255 by the combine — and still shined in testing (more on that later) — and 266 by training camp.

That sort of transformation is exceedingly rare for a rookie, especially from a smaller school. It’s much more common after a player has had a full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program.

The fact that it’s already happened for Crosby is huge, accelerating his development in other areas. He has an improved anchor and is throwing his body around, rag-dolling tight ends at times and creating havoc when he’s the aggressor.

Crosby has also shown improved hand usage, regularly swatting O-linemen’s arms and repositioning for leverage, unlike most rookies.

What can he become?

Crosby dominated the combine, testing in the 90th-plus percentile in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps, 3-cone drill and 20- and 60-yard shuttles. His weight — since boosted — was his biggest concern, and his wingspan (81”) made up for relatively short arms (32 7/8”).

Those numbers show up on tape, though not as traditionally as you’d expect. Crosby isn’t exactly twitchy — he’s actually a bit clunky, a long-strider with build-up speed. He’s not cat-quick laterally, but he’s very smooth redirecting, with good balance and bend.

Crosby’s wingspan also pops off the tape. Despite shorter arms, he shows a wide radius for snagging ball carriers, and his reach can ward off O-linemen’s arms or get into their chest first.

Given the physical tools and sharp development curve, it’s tempting to say Crosby is destined for stardom. That’s not out of the question, but it’s also important to maintain context.

All of his pressure Sunday came against either Jerry — a career-long guard playing left tackle — or Bobby Hart, who allowed 11.5 sacks in 2018. Those two made up 40 percent of the New York Giants’ disastrous O-line from 2015-17.

Likewise, Crosby’s standout Week 10 performance — half-sack, three QB hits, one pass defensed and one interception forced — came against the Los Angeles Chargers’ woeful tackles. He’ll face tougher tests in the Chiefs and Titans in Weeks 13 and 14 (though he also gets the Jets, Chargers and Broncos down the stretch).

Crosby may develop into a threat against top opponents down the line. For now, it’s clear the Raiders have something, which is much more than they’ve been able to say since Khalil Mack was traded.

–By David DeChant (@DavidDeChant), Field Level Media