It's been a long and difficult road for the Raiders at linebacker over the past ten years. There have been some good performances here and there but star performances have been rare with no long term answers. The defensive rankings over the decade have been indicative of the lack of strong linebacker play. There also hasn't been two seasons in a row with the same linebackers at all three positions. Now, can the Raiders finally turn things around at the position? Let's see.
1. Khalil Mack, Nick Roach, Sio Moore (2014)
This one was really tight between this group and the 2007 linebacking corps. There are a lot of uncertainties here considering Mack is starting as a rookie and Moore is switching from strong side to weak side linebacker. Mack has the goods to be a star at the NFL level but that doesn't always happen immediately. Moore has had some difficulty catching on with his assignments and Miles Burris has been taking his first team reps this off-season. Roach can lead the defense as he did last year but he must improve upon his play last season which means shedding blocks and stuffing the run. There are a couple things that put them over the hump. Khalil Mack is one. His all-around game is rare and will be an upgrade. Moore may be behind in catching onto his duties on the weak side but that is the position he played in college and only switched to SAM last season because Kevin Burnett plays WILL. Currently they have great depth, which is also a nudge in their favor. Burris is back healthy and bulked up, as is Kaluka Maiava who will back-up the middle linebacker spot. If Burnett sticks around, he can offer depth and rotation as well.
2. Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard (RIP), Robert Thomas (2007)
This was the season that earned Morrison and Howard the nickname "The Lawfirm". They had ten interceptions between them, six of which were Howard and two of those he took to the house. Morrison was in his third year and his second as the team's everyday starting middle linebacker. He put up 120 combined tackles (96 solo) with about a 50% stop rate. These two held down two of the three linebacker spots together for four years in Oakland. The third spot was a revolving door during that time with Robert Thomas being the best of them. The one glaring weakness in this group: Run defense. But they had terrible play from the interior defensive line and with the three of them playing so well in every other area, they still belong here.
3. Nick Roach, Sio Moore, Kevin Burnett (2013)
While Nick Roach's individual play was not great last season, he was a very good field general for the Raiders defense. Far better than the last guy who occupied the middle of the Raiders defense by a wide margin. Roach is a lot like Kirk Morrison. Very intelligent, racks up high tackle numbers, but struggles with shedding blocks. Kevin Burnett had great overall tackle numbers (100) for an outside linebacker, but he struggled in coverage and had tackling deficiencies as well. The real bright spot here was rookie third round pick, Sio Moore. His pass rush abilities and firey presence give the Raiders hope they may have found a long term answer at outside linebacker.
4. Rolando McClain, Quentin Groves, Kamerion Wimbley (2010)
The fact that any linebacker trio with Rolando McClain in it is already showing up on this list is all the proof you need of how weak the Raiders have been at linebacker over the past decade. This was McClain's rookie season, when his heart was still in it and he hadn't had any run-ins with the law. It was also Quentin Groves' first season with the team and he was at least serviceable. The real redeeming quality of this group is Wimbley. He led the team with 9.0 sacks from the strong side linebacker spot. His addition to this team cannot be understated. Arguably the best player on this defense.
5. Kirk Morrison, Trevor Scott, Thomas Howard (2009)
The next three linebacking corps are in order of the talent of the one player difference. Morrison and Howard remained the same but each season they had a different backfield mate. Trevor Scott gets the nod here for his team leading seven sacks. He didn't do much else all that well but getting pass rush from the outside linebacker spot is a valuable thing.
6. Kirk Morrison, Sam Williams, Thomas Howard (2006)
Sam Williams was basically terrible. But "The Law Firm" had crazy tackle numbers with Morrison racking up 127 and Thomas with 110. Much of that was due to the opposition running the ball constantly due to just how terrible the Raiders offense was, but someone had to make those tackles, and usually it was them.
7. Danny Clark, Kirk Morrison (2005)
This was Morrison's rookie season and he and Clark were left and right linebackers. The Raiders used primarily a nickel defense that season and as one would expect with one less linebacker on the field, these two were tackling machines. Morrison had 116 from one linebacker position, and Clark with 113.
8. Kirk Morrison, Ricky Brown, Thomas Howard (2008)
Ricky Brown wasn't great. He tried really hard and you rooted for the kid and now and then he would make a nice play. His major problem was staying healthy. He would play balls to the wall and injuries would ensue. He started just six games that season, after which the Raiders had to fill in his spot with a series of special teamers.
9. Philip Wheeler, Miles Burris, Rolando McClain (2012)
The first year of the new regime and they gave McClain a short leash. By week four, he was on the bench with Wheeler and Burris running the show. Wheeler was fantastic. He took over playcalling duties and had a well-rounded game. Burris was forced into starting due to the lingering injury to Aaron Curry's knees. Burris is a smart player with good instincts but he is on the smaller side and got pushed around a lot. Still, in the weeks after McClain was benched, there was a noticeable improvement in the defensive play. It's like a tumor had been removed.
10. Rolando McClain, Aaron Curry, Kamerion Wimbley (2011)
It was Rolando McClain's second season and the beginning of the end for him. His most memorable play was a body slam on tiny Danny Amendola after the stop had been made (slow clap). Al Davis passed away prior to week four and by week six, Hue Jackson was making trade deadline moves like there was no tomorrow. One of those moves was to acquire Aaron Curry, who was immediately implanted into the starting lineup in place of Quentin Groves. Curry ended up not being an upgrade and was actually worse because he was completely clueless to his mistakes. All the physical talent in the world without two brain cells to rub together. Even so, the Raiders were in the hunt for the postseason. It all went steeply downhill in week 13 when Rolando McClain was arrested after allegedly assaulting a man and firing off a weapon next to his head. The incident wasn't the main issue. It was Hue Jackson's punishment, or the lack thereof. McClain's punishment? One. Snap. He didn't get the official start in the following week's game in Miami and then was sent onto the field for the rest of the game. The Raiders were trounced by Miami and the message of no accountability was sent loud and clear. They would lose three of their next four games and miss the playoffs. Oh, once again Wimbley was awesome. But he can't do it by himself.
11. Danny Clark, Napoleon Harris, DeLawrence Grant (2004)
Danny Clark was a very good NFL linebacker but a field general he was not. He was playing middle linebacker for the first and only time in the NFL. As usual, he had great tackle numbers though, with 129 tackles and a couple sacks. But he was pretty much doing it alone. The outside linebackers were draft bust, Napoleon Harris, and an out of position DeLawrence Grant who shared duties with Travian Smith. The result was the Raiders worst overall defensive ranking ever. They were 31st in points and 30th in yards allowed.