Back again with the next installment of Poll Position. This time we look at linebacker. That means outside and inside linebacker. I considered separating this with inside/middle and outside but considering some linebackers play both, it got a bit muddy.
Last season the three starting linebackers were drafted in each of the last three drafts - Miles Burris (2012 round 4), Sio Moore (2013 round 3), and Khalil Mack (2014 round 1). Each priority got successively higher. Do the Raiders make it a priority once again? Let's see...
The best player on either side of the ball for the Raiders last season. As a rookie. He was the team's pick at 5 overall as one of the biggest no-brainers in the draft. And with how he performed as a rookie, him still having been on the board at fifth overall almost looks like a steal. He didn't win the rookie of the year, but by most measures he should have. The strong side linebacker was an unblockable force against the run and pass and it showed through with the fact that the only player in the NFL at any position with a higher Pro Football Focus grade was current back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. I think we're good here.
Complements Mack quite well on the weak side. Plays like his hair is on fire, although his inability to rein it in can be frustrating for his coaches and teammates at times. He will only get better as he matures. He was the team's best draft pick in the 2013 draft so he is still young. Despite missing 5 games last season due to injury and playing hurt in another, he was still third on the team with 99 tackles (67 solo) and sacks (3.0).
He wasn't supposed to be a starter last season, but just like in his rookie season, he was thrust into the starting lineup due to injury. This time it was middle linebacker Nick Roach who never returned from a concussion which had Burris playing out of position all season. The results were not pretty. Pro Football Focus rated him as the worst inside linebacker in the league. His -42.2 grade was the worst in the NFL AT ANY POSITION. Just so we're clear, that's the worst graded player in the entire NFL. It's nearly TWICE as bad as the next inside linebacker (Paul Worrilow -22.0). When he wasn't getting caught up in the block, or late getting to the ball, he was missing tackles. His 16 missed tackles were sixth most among inside linebackers. Almost literally the opposite end of the spectrum from Khalil Mack.
Was one of only a couple young, building block free agent signees in the 2013 offseason and started all that season at middle linebacker. That was the plan heading into last season until he went down with a concussion in the preseason and never returned. That's very concerning and it puts his status in doubt for next season as well. When he was healthy, he was a below average to middle linebacker. He is great at calling out the play and getting the defense aligned, but his on-field performance hasn't been great.
Ray Ray Armstrong
Was picked up off the waiver wire early in the season due to injuries at the linebacker position. Appeared in 11 games with 3 starts, collecting 18 tackles (14 solo). His big problem is stupid penalties. He had quite a few of them, mostly on special teams. His starts were out of desperation on a depleted linebacker corps.
Was an undrafted rookie last season. Started the season on the practice squad, but by week two, they already needed to call him up to the regular season roster. Spent the first part of the season on the team, was cut, put back on the practice squad, then called back up for the last few games. He had 8 tackles (6 solo) on the season.
Another undrafted rookie, he was a late invite to training camp and being a warm body at linebacker with some familiarity with the Raiders system got him a call up when things reached critical mass late in the season. He was mainly a special teams player.