A week ago, Sam Monson at Pro Football Focus compiled a list of the top-32 linebackers across the NFL. Surprisingly, the Las Vegas Raiders found two of their own on this list; Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton. Let’s take a closer look at Monson’s reasoning for these two.
Nick was a surprising pick to make this list. There is no doubting his talent, and Raider Nation knows he’s an excellent player, even one of the best on the defense. With that said, the national recognition attributed to Kwiatkoski is very slim, and it’s especially shocking to see him in a top-32 list.
Monson has Nick listed as the 18th best linebacker in the league. Monson went on to call Nick, ‘One of the most successful player acquisitions the Raiders have made under the current regime.‘
That is no lie, and if you look at the players the Raiders have brought in under Jon Gruden’s regime, Kwiatkoski is certainly one of the best. Nick was a backup middle linebacker for the Bears before joining the Silver and Black. Since coming over, Kwiatkoski has been one of the most effective players on the defensive side of the ball. He’s become the quarterback of the defense, and one player the Raiders have learned they can count on week after week. While Nick is easily talented enough to make this list, it’s nice to see him finally get some of the recognition he deserves.
Before the 2020 season, Littleton was considered an elite linebacker. He burst onto the scene quickly and had tremendous 2018 and 2019 seasons. Forget a top-32 list, Littleton was arguably a consensus top-10 linebacker. Fast-forward to this point. Littleton had an extremely disappointing first year with the Raiders and finds himself with more questions than answers heading into 2021.
Perhaps that’s why it’s puzzling to see Littleton remain on this list after such a bad year. He comes in at 22, and Monson defends his ranking by citing the success Littleton had in the two years prior.
‘Across the 2018 and 2019 season, only Lavonte David had a higher PFF coverage grade among linebackers than Cory Littleton with the Rams (90.8),’ Monson says. He does mention Littleton’s abysmal 2020 season, which explains how Littleton dropped in the rankings.
We’ve seen players go from star-caliber to below average after joining the Raiders. We can only hope Littleton isn’t one of those, and it’s hard to believe he could have such an impressive young career, and then put up a performance like he did last year. It leaves one overhanging question; was the problem Littleton himself, or defensive coordinator Paul Guenther? Gus Bradley brings a new identity to the defense, and Littleton wouldn’t be the only example of a player performing worse after joining the Raiders. For the Raiders’ sake, let’s hope Bradley can resuscitate Littleton.
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*Top Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson