Defensively the “Mike” linebacker is to the defense what the quarterback is to the offense. The Raiders face a lot of up and coming defenses in the 2017 season, and we’re here to take a look at some of the top candidates. Specifically, the best overall Mike, best coverage Mike, and the best run-stuffing Mike that’ll oppose the Silver and Black.
The “Best” there is
The incomparable Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys is the best overall linebacker the Raiders will face in 2017. Lee earned his second trip to the NFL’s Pro Bowl and while getting the nod for the first time to be a part of the First-Team All-Pro.
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Pro Football Focus rewarded Lee’s efforts with ratings of an 88.0 overall, an 81.5 against the run and an 86.2 in coverage. What’s even more impressive is that the seven-year veteran maintained such high marks while participating in an astounding 1,047 plays.
Having started and played in 14 and 15 games respectively in the past two seasons, Lee appears to have moved on from the injury plagued years of 2012-2014. Tackling everyone holding a football for even the slightest moment helped Lee to pile up an astounding 145 tackles in 15 games. Averaging shade under ten tackles a game, it left him third on the list behind only Bobby Wagner and a linebacker to be mentioned later.
In coverage, quarterbacks rarely looked towards Lee’s direction, in fact, Lee didn’t record an interception and only broke up one pass last year. He’s only picked off 12 passes in his career and only broken up 24 passes in total. Leading one to believe with such a high rating in coverage that he forces his man to wear him like a blanket.
The Best Cover
Here was the first major curveball of my linebacker list and an absolute filthy deuce if ever there was, Jordan Hicks of the Philadelphia Eagles, is the best cover linebacker the Raiders will face in 2017.
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For as good as Lee was it’s still not even close. Hicks possesses athletic ability that Lee simply does not have. He’s a real ballhawk at the position if ever there was one and the only reason he isn’t the best overall linebacker is that he struggles against the run.
After tearing his pectoral muscle in 2015, Hicks turned 2016 into his rookie year party. Hicks made 85 tackles, recorded five ints, one sack, and 11 pass break-ups. Pro Football Focus felt his production warranted an identical 88.0 overall a 91.7 coverage rating and a paltry 51.1 against the run. Not a bad year for his second rookie season and being unable to fully incorporate himself into a year’s worth of strength and conditioning program. In coverage, few were superior to Hicks, but against the run, he faltered slightly.
The Best Run Stuffer
Run stuffing is the essence of the linebacker, a monster in the middle capable of swallowing up everything moving, best describes the season Zach Brown had for Buffalo in 2016.
A gap stuffing attacking brand of linebacker Brown was second in the league with 149 tackles, sacked the quarterback four times and logged one interception. Raider Nation is very much aware of the abilities of Mr. Brown as they went hard in recruitment to fill the needed hole in their defense. Unfortunately, he would leave Alameda being unable to reach a deal.
*Video: YouTube channel: NFL World
Pro Football Focus gave Brown a respectable 84.1 overall a 75.9 against the run and an 82.0 in coverage. For a man who spent 448 snaps in run defense and compiled roughly 33.25% of the tackles on plays he was involved in, it’s mind boggling how his run grade was so low. Even crazier was that 97 of them were solo tackles. Brown has flourished in his years with head coach Rex Ryan and so we have yet to see if his success will be sustainable without him being schemed up to attack overloaded gaps.
There it is, the best inside linebackers the Raiders will face in 2017, keep in mind Raider Nation, this list isn’t a guarantee for injuries, slumps or scheme misfits can always happen.
One thing’s for certain, a changing of the guard is nearing as a lot of top young talent is coming up through the ranks.
Sources: Pro Football Focus, Fox Sports, and Wikipedia