Up until this past offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders failed to put together a competent linebacker group. With a couple of free-agent signings and a couple of draft additions, the group looks better than it has in a while.
The Raiders have their starters set at linebacker
Last year, injuries and ineffectiveness surrounded the Raiders linebacker corps. Veteran Vontaze Burfict got suspended early in the season and Marquel Lee joined the injured reserve list in late September. Things got so dire, the Silver and Black ended up calling Will Compton in the middle of the season.
The Raiders needed to do address the position and they did. They started by releasing Tahir Whitehead, who was a liability in pass coverage. Then, they pursued two of the most coveted linebackers this past free agency, Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. The duo will immediately add talent to a group and desperately needed it.
Littleton steadily went from an undrafted free agent to one of the best in the NFL. Pro Football Focus even graded him as the seventh-best linebacker in 2019. Moreover, he was the best linebacker in tackling efficiency with just one missed tackle in the whole season.
While Littleton was superb in coverage, Kwiatkoski isn’t a slouch either. Last season, the former Bears linebacker registered three sacks, one interception and recorded a safety. He shouldn’t have problems adjusting to a full-time role after never playing more than 50 percent of all defensive snaps in a season.
Nicholas Morrow should end up with the third linebacker spot. Although his play was less-than-stellar last year, he may not see the field as much since defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will field only two linebackers 75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. If there’s a silver lining is that he’s been solid this training camp and could thrive in a reduced role in 2020.
There is depth behind the starters
The Raiders selected Tanner Muse in this year’s draft and signed Javin White out of UNLV. Kyle Wilber is still with the team, but he’s better suited to play special teams. More recently, the Silver and Black signed Kyle Emmanuel, but it seems more like a camp body kind of thing, and it’s unlikely he will take a roster spot.
Depending on how many linebackers the Raiders want to take, the team could keep all of them, a couple, or just one. Last season, they carried four, but it’s unlikely they will keep the same number knowing how last year played out. If they decide to carry five, they could end up releasing White or Wilber. The UNLV product is playing good enough even if he’s going through the usual bumps and bruises every rookie faces. The Raiders would be smart to keep him and in the worst-case scenario, they should add him to the practice squad.
No one should expect the Raiders to field a top linebacker unit. Nevertheless, they now have enough talent to field a group that won’t embarrass themselves. As long as they produce a few key turnovers, and make some defensive stands, it should be enough to improve the defense as a whole.
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