Who was the last good linebacker that played for the Las Vegas Raiders? What about the last solid one? In all honesty, the Silver and Black hadn’t paid much attention to the position in recent years. However, things changed this past offseason as they heavily invested resources in their linebacker corps. After years of signing bargain pickups and run-of-the-mill veterans, they signed Nick Kwiatkoski this offseason. He was one of many key additions the team made in free agency.
Injuries prevented the Raiders free-agent acquisition to have an impact
You could say Khalil Mack was the last great linebacker the Raiders had, but we digress. More often than not, Mack played with his hand on the ground than in a three-point stance. Putting him aside, who else has played linebacker for the Raiders at a high level in recent years? Regardless, that changed this year when the team signed a couple of coveted players this offseason. One of them was Cory Littleton and the other one was Kwiatkoski.
So far, Littleton has played in every game this season with mixed results. On the other hand, the Raiders lost Kwiatkoski in the season opener to a pectoral injury, so there was no way to really gauge his impact. After missing two games, he suited up against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. He didn’t have much of an impact in that game though and finished the game with three total tackles.
It took time, but Nick Kwiatkoski made his presence felt on the field
Kwiatkoski’s lack of impact against the Bills has two possible explanations. The first one is that he was rusty after missing two games. The second one is that defensive Paul Guenther’s game plan didn’t put him in a position to succeed. Regardless of the reason, ’44’ had his best game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pro Football Focus gave Kwiatkoski an 83.0 overall grade and 89.1 in coverage for his performance against the Chiefs. In that game, he was targeted twice and he defensed both of them. Although his sample is small, he ranks eight in overall grade with 78.1 and sixth in coverage with 84.4 among all NFL linebackers in 2020. Moreover, he ended up playing a key role in the Raiders defense’s second-half stand, in which they forced the Chiefs to punt the ball in three consecutive drives and later intercepted quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Although it was just one game, that’s precisely the kind of impact the Raiders expected from Kwiatkoski. Moving forward, he will continue to play a key role in the Silver and Black’s defense.
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