As someone who covers the Raiders exclusively, a look around the division will make you feel a little better about the situation the Raiders are in right now. Cuz, top to bottom, it does not look good. I found myself looking for any redeeming qualities that would make one of these units worthy of taking the top spot. I’m not entirely sure I found any, but whatever, we go forth anyway.
1. Broncos — Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis
Interestingly, this is the only starting duo in the division that was the same heading into last season as this season. Marshall has played well in the past. Most notably his first season as a full time starter he had 119 tackles (95 solo) in 14games. That was 2014. Each of the past two seasons, his numbers have gone down. He was at 101 tackles (76 solo) in 2015, and just 52 tackles (39 solo) in 11 games last season.
Davis picked up the slack in his first season as a full time starter. The Sac State alum was second on the team with 97 tackles.
2. Chiefs -- Derrick Johnson, Ramik Wilson
The once great Derrick Johnson’s career is winding down. He’ll turn 35 in November and has torn his Achilles twice in the past three seasons. That last injury occurred in week 13 of last season, leaving his status for training camp and even the season opener in question. If he can return full and stay healthy, he’s still productive. But that’s a big question.
Last season was Wilson’s first as a full time starter, taking over for former starter, Josh Mauga. Wilson had good numbers, putting up 76 tackles in the final 11 games of the season. This after the team waived the former 4th round pick to start the season, only to re-sign him and after week five and make him the starter the rest of the way. A rather unusual way to go through a season.
3. Chargers — Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown
Former second round pick Manti Te’o was allowed to leave as a free agent this offseason. Brown, a 2016 5th round pick, stepped up and ended up leading the team in tackles in 12 games, adding 3.5 sacks as well. Brown joined another former second round pick, Denzel Perryman in the starting rotation.
This season the Chargers are switching to a 4-3 scheme, which means Perryman will receive a heavier workload as a middle linebacker, with Brown playing the Will linebacker spot (not in inside backer, but for these purposes we’ll just include him here). Perryman has been an above average inside linebacker over his two seasons in the NFL, so it’s may be a tall order to expect him to take on the increased responsibilities of a middle linebacker.
4. Raiders — Cory James/Marquel Lee, Jelani Jenkins
Jenkins is by far the most accomplished inside linebacker on this team. The former Dolphin signed with the Raiders on a one-year free agent deal and is expected to line up as the weakside linebacker, replacing Malcolm Smith. He’s coming off an injury shortened season in which he suffered a knee injury, tried to return and re-aggravated it. Though there’s no reason to believe he isn’t back full now.
Most likely starting at the other inside linebacker spot is either Cory James or Marquel Lee. James started two games last season before the team added Perry Riley Jr who the team didn’t re-sign this offseason. Lee was the team’s fifth round pick and will compete for the starting spot as a rookie. There are a lot of uncertainties and it isn’t a situation where there are several great options, just a lot of questionable ones.