Linebacker Cory Littleton was one of the hottest free agents last offseason. The Las Vegas Raiders had a glaring hole at the position, so it made sense for them to bring him in. How did the signing play out?
Cory Littleton had a rough start with the Raiders
Littleton joined the Raiders defense after signing a three-year $36 million contract. It seemed like he struggled to figure out defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme early in the season. As a result, he was playing with more hesitation than he did in the past. This play against the Chiefs early on in the season is a good example.
Studying Raiders Free Agents this past week and Cory Littleton really stood out, and not in a good way. Littleton sees the run, has a gap and could have made the play for a loss if he triggered. Instead he flows to the sideline and gets washed by the TE. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/nT9tnXOlDX
— Brentley Weissman (@Brentley12) October 30, 2020
In this play, Littleton is clearly not confident and avoids making a tackle attempt. Instead, tight end Travis Kelce blocks him out of the play. This struggle to fit in and play fast really hurt the Raiders’ already porous defense. However, head coach Jon Gruden and his coaching staff wanted to see their investment through. For that reason, they let their free-agent acquisition to work through the kinks in his game.
Any progress Littleton made in this area was put on hold before the Raiders Week 10 game against the Denver Broncos, as he became one of the many players the team placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, causing him to miss the next week’s game. Coincidentally, this Las Vegas team had its best outing of the season. They won 37-12 on the back of five defensive turnovers.
Littleton returned to the starting lineup In Week 12 against the Atlanta Falcons just in time to help the Raiders lose 43-6. This is not to say that the former Ram is entirely to blame for the poor defense. Nevertheless, he was certainly not the impact player the team envisioned.
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Cory Littleton finished the season on a high note
After moving on from Guenther, Littleton looked a lot more comfortable. Even though ’42’ didn’t play at an elite level, he began to show flashes of what made him a great player in Los Angeles. He finished the season with just 56 solo tackles and only three tackles for a loss. However, it looked like he settled at the position towards the end of 2020, logging 18 total tackles in the last two games of the season.
Now tackles surely aren’t the best statistic for quantifying a linebacker’s performance. A defender can post gaudy tackle numbers and still have a bad year (we’re looking at you, Tahir Whitehead). Nevertheless, it was definitely a breath of fresh air to see him be around the ball.
Cory Littleton said he started to feel more comfortable in the defense & it shows. He’s been playing faster but also more physically. A real offseason in whatever D the Raiders end up with should help him live up to the Raiders lofty expectations next year. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/NjQapgbKqN
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) January 5, 2021
The desire for greatness is still there
Littleton was brutally honest about his performance at the end of the year. He said on a sit-down with the local media he came out miserably and knew he didn’t fill his expectations. These flashes and self-awareness are encouraging for a Raiders team that recently hired new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who will be tasked with making good on the Silver and Black’s investment in Littleton.
The strengths in Littleton’s game lie in his pass coverage abilities and using his speed to make tackles from the backside, so he profiles as a perfect fit as the weakside linebacker in Bradley’s 4-3 defense. If the Raiders are to make a jump on the defensive side of the ball, they are going to need to see a massive improvement from one of their most expensive defensive players at one of the most important positions in Bradley’s defense.
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Top Photo: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press