The Las Vegas Raiders need two of their defenders to shine right out of the gate on Monday night versus the Baltimore Ravens.
Many questions await answers this season particularly, the defense. The Raiders go into every season with questions. However, this offseason, their defense was finally the priority. Las Vegas worked extensively on the unit via the NFL draft and free agency. Tomorrow, they will be under the national spotlight, so what better place to see if these improvements worked. In particular, there are two defensive players that will be under the microscope, let’s take a look.
Almost immediately, many second-guessed the Raiders’ 2019 first-round pick. Abram brings energy and delivers many hard hits, and many were looking forward to that. Unfortunately, his rookie campaign ended prematurely, as he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1. Nevertheless, the hope he brought in that game led to high expectations for 2020. Through the first two weeks, Abram looked good. He was all over the field and was laying the lumber on film.
Then, Week 3 arrived against the New England Patriots. Even with an interception, Abram struggled and was missing tackles all over the field. The matchup ended up encapsulating what the season would be for Abram. Essentially, he would have moments of solid play but too many head-scratching plays, unfortunately. The moments of joy seemed to fade quickly with each mistake. None were more visible than Abram leaving his zone against the Kansas City Chiefs and leaving Travis Kelce open in the end zone. By doing so, he gave up the game-winning touchdown.
The offseason saw many secondary players brought in, including former Raiders first-round pick Karl joseph. With Joseph coming in, some wondered if Abram was headed to backup duty. However, this was not to be following Joseph’s release. With the Baltimore Ravens coming to town, Abram’s in a big spot given how dynamic Lamar Jackson is. It could be a make-or-break season for Abram, and that will begin in Week 1. He is one of two players that need to show up and make a statement against the Ravens.
Last offseason, Littleton arrived in Las Vegas with much hype but could not deliver on it. In two seasons prior, Littleton totaled 259 tackles and five interceptions. Unfortunately, last season, he ended with 82 tackles and no interceptions.
Not a bad season technically, but not up to par with what he had produced before the Raiders. Heading into this year, the linebacker group was rather bare. However, this unit might become a strength following the additions of K.J. Wright and Denzel Perryman. Littleton is the sole remaining starter right now from the last year’s group. So, if he fails to meet expectations, things could go south quickly.
With his quickness and abilities, he’s a factor against Jackson, and he’ll be able to help in coverage as well. In addition, if he can assist in shutting down the Ravens’ running lanes, it would make for a long night and help lead to a Raiders’ win. Littleton will need to step up and hopefully, by doing so, will put to bed the questions surrounding the linebacker.
The Raiders face a stiff test in Week 1. The Ravens are a perennial playoff contender and have a dynamic quarterback in Jackson. This season marks Year 4 of Jon Gruden 2.0, and if Abram and Littleton make strides beginning in game one, this could lead to the playoffs.
There are many questions on both sides of the ball, but the defense has been the Achilles heel. Given all the defensive changes, this could be the year where it finally comes together. Will Abram and Littleton help lead the change and live up or surpass the expectations?
*Top Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson