Los Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
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Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby has established himself as one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, and it's not just because of his tattoos. The Eastern Michigan product has improved upon his sack total in three straight seasons, and earned his second All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods in 2023. Crosby has evolved into a legitimate star, but it took a couple of life changes to get here.

After exploding onto the scene with 10 sacks in his rookie season, Crosby took a necessary detour. He checked himself into rehab for alcoholism. Entering his second NFL season, he went straight to training camp from rehab. Crosby put on weight, attempting to fill that hole of addiction with food. Admittedly, he wasn't in the best shape that season, as he navigated his first year of being clean. Statistically, Crosby's second NFL season was his worst, and from that 2020 campaign came newfound inspiration. 

"I felt like I took a step back, and I didn't want to have that feeling ever again," Crosby told CBS Sports. 

"I really just sat down like, 'OK. I'm not just going to be a good story, I'm not just going to be a guy from the MAC that made it and had a pretty good career. Nah, I want to be the best. Why am I not at the level of T.J. Watt? Why can't I be at the level of Myles Garrett? I know I have it in me.' But it's about the details on a daily basis. So after that second year I had to get surgery on my shoulder, I had to get surgery on my hand and then I came in the building and I sat with the strength coach and said, 'Tell me what I need to do. I'll do everything to a T. I'll be the first guy in here. What do I need to do?' And I fully put my trust into those guys." 

The trust he offered to the Raiders support staff was well-placed. Crosby recorded eight sacks in his third season and picked up his first All-Pro selection, then came 12.5 sacks in 2022 plus a league-leading 22 tackles for loss followed by a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2023 to go along with 23 tackles for loss, which again led the NFL. 

That's not to say everything has gotten easier for Crosby. Just that adversity has seemingly become commonplace. Crosby sported a large cast on his right hand while we spoke, the product of a procedure completed just days earlier. This second surgery came on the heels of a first, a more serious operation that reportedly lasted three hours. Crosby suffered a knee injury in Week 2 of the regular season, and it was an issue that progressively got worse and worse until it led to infection, which in turn led to a visit to the hospital. Your average player would have been shut down for the year, but not "Mad Maxx." He didn't miss a single game. 

"I gotta give a ton of credit to the whole strength staff, the coaching staff, the training room," Crosby said. "Alex Guerrero, all those guys helped me a ton during that process. I landed on my knee in Buffalo on the turf and I blew up my bursa in my knee. I had to get it drained after the games and before games for the rest of the season basically. I kept landing on it, kept getting worse, kept blowing up and it was just like a process of managing me during the week with practice because every time I would run on it, it would get fluid in it. Then the infection on top of it before the Chiefs game was terrible. Never been in that type of pain on a lower extremity or my leg, anything like that in my life. It was a battle, but at the end of the day it made me stronger, it made me push even harder and I was still able to have my best season dealing with all that. So me not quitting, not giving in. People wanted me to shut it down and all this. That was never a consideration. I was always gonna play regardless if I could go." 

Pierce brings new energy

Crosby wasn't going to let down his teammates or his new coach. After Josh McDaniels was fired in Week 8, former linebackers coach Antonio Pierce took over as the interim lead man. He brought a new energy to the franchise that was evident to the entire NFL. 

"Everybody respects him. He's a leader," Crosby said of Pierce. "Former Super Bowl champion, former captain and he can relate to the guys. He has real relationships with his players, and that's something that I respect him for. He takes time to spend time with my family. He met my parents, met my wife, met my daughter. He takes the time to understand who you are so he can have that real relationship. So if he needs something from me on the field or he calls me out, he's not coming out of pocket. He's trying to help me. And that's what being a leader is.

"We just get along and it makes sense. He's a Raider, from day one. He's been incredible."

Pierce won over the locker room quickly. In fact, he had such support from his players, that Crosby threatened to request a trade if Pierce was not named the full-time lead man. 

"I was public about it," Crosby said. "In this business, at the end of the day, I want people that are aligned with what I believe in. And that's improving every single year. I show them every single day. I'm in here more than the coaches and executives and everybody. I put the work in every single day and every single year I'm getting better. And I show them that, and I show that I'm dedicated to winning and I want them to be on that same page, whether that's the coaches, the players, everybody. If we're not fully aligned, then what am I doing? That's basically what I was saying, and I want to be a Raider. I love being a Raider, I've always wanted to be a Raider. I got it tatted on me. I got that before I even took a snap. 

"In that moment, I could have maybe said something different, could have worded it differently or whatever, but I stand on what I said and I don't regret anything I said. I've had conversations with Mark (Davis) and everybody and we're all on the same page. I'm just passionate about what I do. I've been that way since day one."

NFL: DEC 12 Raiders at Chiefs
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Succeeding in a true Raiders style

The Raiders franchise has always had a different kind of swagger, which is why Crosby fits in so nicely. Apart from being a talented defensive end that can rush the quarterback just as effectively as he can stuff the run, Crosby's calling card is being a nuisance. 

He wants everyone across from him to know he's there. He's going to touch the merchandise when he's not supposed to, he's going to hold you on the ground maybe a little longer than he should. If you have thin skin and lack composure, he'll ruin your day.  

"That's just my style of football," Crosby said. "I would say the biggest influence on my football career has been Rod Marinelli. He's an old-school guy. I grew up being obsessed with the old school style of football. That's what I try to do every Sunday is show people --  people talk about how football is soft now. Like no, I'm out there trying to take souls. That's really what I'm doing. And it's not just quarterbacks. Of course I'm going to be after the quarterback the whole game and I'm trying to bother him and get him off his game, but it's also the O-linemen and the running backs. I don't spare anybody. If I feel like I can get under somebody's skin or I can take advantage or make him a little bit more hesitant when he gets the ball in his hand, I'm going to do that. And that's not only through putting him on his ass, but also getting in his mind a little bit and just make him second-guess whether he wants to run my way or not.

"That's the game inside the game, and I love what I do. I don't shy away. When I'm out on the football field, that's the most alive and most free and most real feeling that I possibly can have. It's like real gladiator shit. And I fully embrace that every time I'm out there."

The Raiders may now finally be on the path to success. With Pierce at the helm, the Vegas defense allowed an average of 16 points per game, which led the league from Weeks 9-18. Their best player had a big hand in that, and he continues to get better and better. 

"The reason I've been getting better every single year is because I fine-tune everything every day," Crosby said. "I'm looking at everything across the board and I've built a foundation that I believe is the best in the National Football League. And every single day I'm finding that 1% I can improve on, so once you do that over three years, then five years, then six years, that's how you continue to keep elevating and that's what people are seeing on Sundays."

Crosby spoke with CBS Sports in promoting Invisalign.

"I didn't grow up with braces or anything like that," Crosby said. "I always wanted to find the best possible thing I could do to get my dental hygiene and everything at it's best. Invisalign was the perfect partner. Over 400 guys in the NFL have Invisalign, so they came to me with a great opportunity and I'm just glad I get to get this thing rolling."