The Raiders defense was in a predicament this season. They had to cut ties with starting strong side linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and cornerback Stanford Routt. Then they lost starting weak side linebacker Aaron Curry for the season followed quickly by both starting corners, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. It was patchwork time and that meant some rookies would get their shot on the defense. None more so than this fine young player.
Defensive Rookie of the Year - Miles Burris
This was not a hard award to give out. Burris started from day one and never let go of it which was something no other rookie on this team was able to do.
Aaron Curry missed all of training camp with bad knees and Burris was playing in his stead. Initially the team wasn't completely sure if Burris would be the guy come the regular season but as camp went on, he continued to improve. By the time the season was to start, the Raiders were comfortable enough with this rookie linebacker to give him the job.
It is definitely not unheard of for a fourth round pick to be something special. It happens all the time, in fact. But rarely do you see a pick that late get thrown into the fire from day one. And while we talk about his being a fourth round pick, he was a compensatory pick which means he was basically a fifth round pick.
If it hadn't been for the injury to Curry, Burris never would have been given his shot so early on but once Curry came off the PUP list, he had become expendable. At that point, Curry would simply impede the progress of the rookie phenom and he was waived after one game in which he played primarily on special teams.
On any team running a 4-3 defense as the Raiders were, the middle linebacker is considered the most important player on the defense. For the Raiders, that was a bit of an issue because that middle linebacker was the ineffective Rolando McClain.
By week four, Dennis Allen decided it would be better if McClain were taken out of the game on passing downs. So, while McClain was on the field for less than 50% of the snaps, Burris remained on the field for every snap regardless of pass or run. That is a lot of faith being placed in such a young player.
The decision paid off to take out McClain and leave Burris in the game alongside Philip Wheeler. The Raiders had their three best defensive performances of the season in the games following the switch. And it became clear pretty quickly that the Raiders may just have a real building block in this kid.
His play began to come down late in the season when the length of the NFL season took its toll on him. That's to be expected. He still finished the season second on the team in combined tackles (96), just missing breaking 100 tackles on the season. Then in week 16, he added an interception to his resume. Pretty good for any rookie. And certainly the best defensive rookie performance on this team.