Raiders in Review: Tahir Whitehead

It’s that time again, Raider Nation. The offseason is finally here! The Raider Ramble brings you our Las Vegas Raiders review series and next up is the latest in the long line of replacement level middle linebackers, Tahir Whitehead.

In his second year with the Raiders, Whitehead was expected to improve after a tough Khalil Mack-less inaugural season. In short, he didn’t do much to impress and won’t likely be brought back unless something catastrophic happens in free agency and/or this year’s draft.

Whitehead by the Numbers

Whitehead’s start was inauspicious at best, posting mediocre to below-average grades in coverage and run defense (per PFF) in the first week of the season. He rebounded in Week 2 and promptly fell off a cliff not registering a grade above 51.1 in any category for next seven weeks. His season aggregate run defense grade checked out at a respectable 72.8 but his abysmal 42.2 coverage grade is exactly why he is not expected back in Las Vegas. To make matters worse, unofficial walk-on Will Compton began to siphon off snaps and by the end of the year, Compton was the de facto starter in the middle.

The Linebacker in Context

Compton’s ascendance into green dot bearer is just as much of an indictment on the front office’s inability to find a long term starter as it is Whitehead’s failure to hold down the spot.

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Indeed, the Raiders middle linebacker position is the equivalent of the cursed defense against the dark arts position. Whitehead, to his credit, has attempted to be the leader of the defense and has worked to rally a unit that has had anemic levels of production longer than most of us remember. Through no fault of his own, Whitehead has tried and failed to enamor a defense that often looked overmatched. Unfortunately, when you’re among the worst in the league at your position it can be difficult to motivate others.

Is He Coming Back?

Perhaps the most disconcerting component for Whitehead is that he is probably the worst of the linebacker the Raiders have had since the Ben Heeney days. Perhaps head coach Jon Gruden, and the organization simply don’t place a high premium on the middle of their defense. That certainly should change in the coming draft as there are a bevy of talented linebackers who will likely fair much better in coverage. The Silver and Black should be willing to spend draft capital on players like Patrick Queen, who was a dynamo in coverage, or Kenneth Murray, who is less skilled but has sideline-to-sideline speed. Also, Las Vegas faithfuls will surely be pulling for a blockbuster move to snag Isaiah Simmons, one of the darlings of the combine.

Alternative Options

If free agency is where the Raiders plan to make a move (shudders), then Rams linebacker Cory Littleton might be front and center. He is widely considered the best at his position on the market, followed by Joe Schobert. Both posted 130+ tackles and snagged at least two interceptions, marks that would lead the Las Vegas linebacker corps by a mile. Even better, neither player will turn 27 until sometime next season while Whitehead will breach the 30-year mark in less than a month.

See Ya Wouldn’t Want To Be Ya

It was easy to buy into the Whitehead hype two season ago, and he might have fared better had a certain number 52 remained on the roster. However, Mack wasn’t going to help Whitehead avoid posting abysmal coverage numbers. Even in games where the Raiders got a bit more push from the front seven, Whitehead never posted a grade higher than 66.4 all season and had only two “league average” coverage games. Whitehead’s career is far from over as he is a serviceable first down linebacker who is a willing hitter and displays high character. Nevertheless, if he is expected to do much more than fill those roles, he will likely be picked on and exposed both in coverage and even on end-arounds. After spending two seasons as a pariah, its best for both parties if he moves on.

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