The biggest acquisition the Las Vegas Raiders made this offseason was linebacker Cory Littleton. More than just a talented individual, he’s representing a larger shift in team culture.
For years the linebacker position was an abyss for the Silver and Black. Everyone’s familiar with the failures, from draft busts such as Rolando McClain to free agent disasters such as Tahir Whitehead. Whether it was the flawed approach or the individual players themselves, it could never come together. Raiders brass had finally seen enough, they opted to invest major capital into the position by way of free agency. Nick Kwiatkoski was snagged right away, but the true key addition was Littleton.
According to Pro Football Focus, Littleton was graded at 79.0 overall for 2019, his 82.3 grade being his strongest attribute. In a division with so many talented tight ends, Littleton’s coverage skills will be invaluable. An underrated aspect of Littleton’s game is his pass rush, PFF graded it at 78.2 last year. In fact, Littleton blitzed the quarterback a total of 122 times and notched seven and a half sacks in that span. Game-changing skills aside, Littleton also brings an attitude and his addition elevates the defense to a different level.
Littleton is part of a bigger turnaround for the Raiders
In a recent post via ESPN by Paul Gutierrez, head coach Jon Gruden summed up his first meet up with Littleton, nearly four months after his signing.
“When he walked in in his uniform, with a helmet on,” the Raiders coach said, referencing training camp. “The first day.”
The unique offseason altered by the Covid-19 pandemic changed how the team’s new additions familiarized themselves with their new team. For Littleton, there isn’t much difference as his teammates recognize the defense has changed. Take Johnathan Abram who recently said, “It looks like day and night, truthfully. We got faster on every single position on offense and defense but the linebacker corps does stick out.” While the defense has yet to take the field in a game, Littleton’s coverage abilities will be a vast improvement over anything the team has had in years.
“He had a ‘Ball Hawk’ rate — the percentage of targets as the nearest defender which resulted in a pass defensed or an interception — of 13.0%, which ranked 15th of 50 linebackers with at least 250 coverage snaps.”
Kwiatkoski will be wearing the green dot so he’ll be the on-field general for the Raiders defense. Nevertheless, make no mistake Raider Nation, whether the Raiders defense will make take a step forward will depend on Littleton.
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*Top Photo: Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal