The Las Vegas Raiders signed Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton to shore up their linebacker corps. The latter could already be the team’s most underrated player in spite of not taking a step on the field yet.
The Raiders signed Littleton to a three-year $35.25 million contract this past offseason. The linebacker was one of the most coveted players at his position and it was easy to understand why. According to analyst Solomon Wilcots, “Littleton has the coverage skills of a defensive back.” Last season, Pro Football Focus gave him the highest tackling grade in 2019 and a 82.3 grade in pass coverage, the seventh highest mark in the league. Moreover, he missed just ONE tackle in 2019!
Cory Littleton had only one missed tackle on 1,039 defensive snaps in 2019 pic.twitter.com/HXI5jbIOJN— PFF (@PFF) June 16, 2020
Littleton finished the 2019 season with two interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a sack. If he can produce similar numbers in 2019, he will be worth every cent the Raiders invested in him.
The Defense’s Own Swiss Army Knife
The Raiders offense has a jack-of-all-trades in rookie Lynn Bowden Jr. Not to be outdone, their defensive counterpart could have a player with the same amount of roles in Littleton. Analyst Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire thinks Littleton is an upgrade over anyone else the team had last year and is the team’s most underrated player.
Last season, the Raiders went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season. One reason for this relative lack of success was a linebacker corps that underperformed rather drastically. Tahir Whitehead, Nicholas Morrow, Will Compton, and Vontaze Burfict combined to form a linebacker corps that was especially awful in pass coverage.” Farrar wrote.
Furthermore, he believes the Littleton’s versatility will immediately help the Raiders.
In the offseason, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock looked to improve things by signing Littleton, the former Rams standout, to a three-year, $35.25 million contract. It’ll help, as Littleton showed in his former defense that he can rush run fits, cover the flat and seam, and he has an impressive ability to read a quarterback’s intentions.
It’s easy to see why Farrar chose Littleton as the Raiders’ most underrated player even though he was a premier free agent. Defensive end Maxx Crosby is arguably the best defensive player on the team and is a household name. Clelin Ferrell was a high profile pick that is expected to improve in his sophomore season so that doesn’t leave many choices.
On the other hand, as much hype as there is behind the Raiders 2020 rookie class, none of them have played a down. For that reason, Littleton being Las Vegas’ “most underrated player”makes sense.
Maybe Farrar could’ve gone with Maurice Hurst, who is steadily improving and could become a core player in 2020. Nevertheless, the analyst went with Littleton.
If Littleton plays the way he did for the Rams last season, he will soon go from the most underrated to the most recognizable Raiders player.
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Top Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times