The Las Vegas Raiders have found the man to commandeer their defense for years to come. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski reinforced the Silver and Black’s defense in his inaugural season with the team in 2020. Additionally, the former Chicago Bear played at a high level despite a woeful unit around him.
The Las Vegas Raiders in 2019 were abysmal on the defensive side of the football, and 2020 brought much of the same. Las Vegas’ lopsided spending in recent years hasn’t helped matters and has only hindered the Silver and Black’s defense.
Despite the imbalance in spending, the Raiders made sure to acquire an experienced linebacker from the Chicago Bears in free agency.
Per his own twitter account LB Nick Kwiatkoski is signing with the Las Vegas Raiders
Kwiatkoski: 15th highest graded LB in 2019 pic.twitter.com/08yD443Qo9
— PFF (@PFF) March 16, 2020
Kwiatkoski isn’t per se a household name. Nevertheless, his presence on the field was tangible in the team’s Week 1 victory against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers’ 2019 All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, was held to just 32 rushing yards in the first half. However, once Las Vegas’ new middle linebacker left the game due to injury, McCaffrey gained 65 yards in the second half.
During the first drive of the 3rd QTR, #Raiders LB Nick Kwiatkoski had to extend his left arm as he swung down Panthers WR Curtis Samuel on a short catch. He grabbed his left pec after. Kwiatkoski went back in for a play the next drive, but left immediately and didn't return.
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) September 14, 2020
Subsequently, the former West Virginia Mountaineer missed the next three weeks as a result of the pectoral injury.
Kwiatkoski returned to action in Week 7, when the Raiders traveled to Arrowhead Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Kansas City Chiefs and ‘Ski’ was a pivotal part of the victory in both pass and run defense.
.@Raiders this is how you go to @Arrowhead Stadium and win. You just knock the snot bubbles out of the #Chiefs. @chiefs we’re 0-5 on 3rd downs in the second half! #RaiderNation #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/bLSJn8jdXA
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 12, 2020
As you can see above, the former Mountaineer has the instincts that all coaches crave. In addition to his stout run defense, Nick did not allow a single reception on six targets against the division rival. After that contest, the Raiders linebacker continued to thrive in multiple aspects. He plays the game with toughness in the middle of the Silver and Black’s defense.
Been a minute since I've seen a Raiders MLB fill a hole at or behind the LOS. Nick Kwiatkoski squares up the RB and drops him. He is having a good season, should be a reliable, steady player. Smart, instinctive, tough.#Raiders #Raidernation pic.twitter.com/yfkbUAcPzj
— Ryan Holmes (@Rholm22) November 10, 2020
When the opportunity arises; ’44’ knows how to create turnovers in space.
What a defensive play by Nick Kwiatkoski midway through the 1st!
— Raider Nation (@RaidersNationCP) November 1, 2020
Last but not least, he possesses a more than adequate amount of athleticism to make plays such as the one below.
Nick Kwiatkoski makes the one-handed catch for the garbags time interception pic.twitter.com/MPX7eUxMMD
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) November 16, 2020
Moving forward, Las Vegas should be more than pleased with the cost-friendly roster addition.
A look at the contract details for former #WVU LB Nick Kwiatkoski, who signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders
— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) March 17, 2020
Kwiatkoski’s the kind of difference-maker the Raiders defense needs
Kwiatkoski is a physical specimen. His presence also ensures that the Raiders are in the right defensive package via radio communication with the coaching staff.
Jon Gruden on Littleton's #Raiders running mate at LB Nick Kwiatkoski: `He's going to be the lead singer now. He's the leader of the band. He's going to get a chance to make all the calls, all the checks all the adjustments, a lot of the communication to free everybody up.'
— Jerry McDonald (@Jerrymcd) May 15, 2020
As Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said, Nick is the conductor of the Raiders defensive band. He bears the future potential of a top middle linebacker for the Silver and Black for 2021.
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Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images