The Oakland Raiders helped their defense in a big way in the 2018 NFL draft. P.J. Hall (Round 2), Arden Key (Round 3), and Maurice Hurst (Round 5), are going to help the Raiders rush the passer. But outside of Marcus Gilchrist, Leon Hall and Rashaan Melvin in the secondary, they didn’t do much for the defense in free agency.
The Raiders obviously needed linebackers and they got a few but no one that’s really going to change things. Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead are the biggest names in an unimpressive haul of linebackers. Johnson, the MIKE, is excellent in pass coverage with a Pro Football Focus grade of 86 in coverage but a paltry 39.9 in run defense. Then Whitehead, the SAM, is solid against the run with a grade of 86.7 but a pedestrian in coverage at 45.5. And Nicholas Morrow, the projected WILL doesn’t have a score of over 53 in either category.
So the Raiders came out of their free agency and the draft without a linebacker we know can do it all. When I say do it all, I mean play the run, rush the passer occasionally and cover. The Raiders had NaVorro Bowman join the team six games in last year and he made an impact. The six games before he got there, they gave up 117.2 rushing yards per game, which would have been good for No. 23 in the NFL over a whole season. But Bowman came in and dropped that average down to 104 yards per game, which would have tied them for eighth. In the process, the Raiders finished a respectable No. 12 against the run in 2017.
Johnson, with his coverage ability, is probably better suited to play the WILL as he doesn’t have the instincts or ability to take on and shed blocks to be the Mike. Whitehead is strong against the run but gets beat badly in coverage so he shouldn’t be on the field on passing downs. So Bowman, whose grade was 85.4 against the run and 77.3 against the pass, could be the MIKE that can do it all and wear the green dot on his helmet and have Johnson with him on passing downs.
Then suddenly, the Raiders look like they have a solid linebacker corps. And with all the additions they made to Mack on the D-line and to a healthy Gareon Conley in the secondary, the Raiders defense could be pretty good in 2018. But the first thing they should do after signing Mack is get Bowman back in the fold.
Check out the video below to see who Johnson and Whitehead really are and how much the Raiders need Bowman.