The linebacker position has been a weak spot on the Raiders roster for a few seasons and one could argue the position has been the weak link for some time.
While the team has done quite a bit in the offseason to improve its defense as a whole, linebacker remains a bit of a question mark. With the offseason additions and young talent at other positions, there might be a simple answer to the question raised in the title…yes.
Reuniting Vontaze Burfict and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther could help revive the linebacker’s career, but the last few years haven’t been kind to him, as Burfict appears to be losing a battle with father time. Also, the 29-year old (in September) veteran has never been known for his coverage skills and that is becoming extremely important in today’s NFL.
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Free agent signing Brandon Marshall certainly has the highest pedigree of any Raiders linebacker, but even he has seen his fair share of struggles in recent years. Marshall battled injuries last year and in the last two seasons posted PFF grades of: 64.2 and 61.8. In the last couple of years, Marshall’s coverage skills have seemingly declined with coverage grades of: 67.1 and 52.6. As it stands right now, the former Bronco should be the starter in the middle and someone the Raiders will need to rely heavily on.
The team did not draft a linebacker and the two players above are the team’s only notable offseason acquisitions at the position. The minimal offseason acquisitions leave us with the returning linebackers: Tahir Whitehead and Marquel Lee. Both can certainly help the team in run support, however they struggle in coverage. Whitehead and Lee combined to give up 846 receiving yards, eight touchdowns and allowed a completion percentage of 83.1 when targeted last season and that’s not exactly a welcomed sight in a pass happy league.
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The rest of the position group is a combination of undrafted free agents and unproven players. Those players certainly have a golden opportunity to prove their worth, but that doesn’t change the perception of the group as a whole heading into training camp.
There are certainly other position groups that one could argue; for example defensive and offensive line, but it is harder argument to make. The Fly Sweep Podcast, along with RaiderRamble.com founder, Mario Tovar, attempt to answer this question (14:55-30:35), discuss Josh Jacob’s contract situation (4:30-14:50) and compare NBA free agency to NFL free agency (30:45-41:15). Click the link below to listen to the latest episode!