Along with wide receiver, the Las Vegas Raiders’ biggest area of need is at linebacker.
The position has been a black hole (no, not that one) for the franchise for years. Once again, major change should be upon us this offseason as the Raiders are expected to be aggressive in the linebacker market in both free agency and in the draft. With more than $50 million in salary-cap room and five top 100 picks, Oakland should be able to get a couple of new starters in the middle of their defense.
It is clearly at the forefront of Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock’s mind. At the NFL combine this week, Mayock said the Raiders need big help on defense, including all layers.
Let’s take a closer look at the Raiders’ linebackers situation:
Current linebackers: The 2019 Raiders’ linebackers of note were Vontaze Burfict, Tahir Whitehead, Nicholas Morrow and Will Compton. Burfict could come back (I’ll soon have a post about my thoughts on his return). Whitehead could be a salary-cap dump because that could save up to $7 million. Whitehead, who is entering the final season of his contract, hasn’t made much of an impact, and he lost time to Compton late last season. Compton is a guy who gave the Raiders his all, but is likely a player the Raiders would like to upgrade from. Perhaps he could be back in a reserve role. Morrow has been a nice story as a Division-III success story, but his future as a starter may be limited. Thus, it is obvious that upgrades are necessary at linebacker as the Raiders to transition to Win City.
Free agency: It’s a solid class of free agent linebackers, which behooves the Raiders. The best linebackers on the open market are set to include Cory Littleton of the Rams, Matthew Judon of the Ravens, Dante Fowler of the Rams, Shaq Barrett of Tampa Bay, Bud Dupree of Pittsburgh, Joe Schobert of Cleveland, Blake Martinez of Green Bay and Jamie Collins of New England. The Raiders’ top choice could be Littleton. He is a tackle machine, but he will be highly sought after and expensive. Yet, he’s from the West Coast and the idea of no state tax in Nevada would likely appeal to Littleton. On the outside, Judon may be the best option for the Raiders. He could be given the franchise tag by the Ravens, though. Like Littleton, he will be expensive. There is little chance the Raiders can add both players. But if they get either Littleton or Judon, they can add another starting linebacker at a lesser price. Again, this is a deep class.
The draft: It appears to be a decent crop of linebackers in the 2020 draft. The top inside linebacker is Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma. The Raiders could potentially draft him at No. 19 if they go receiver at No. 12 and don’t sign a starter in free agency. However, some teams think Murray can play both outside as well. So, he could definitely appeal to the Raiders. At outside linebacker, the main Raiders’ target could be LSU’s Patrick Queen. He has been connected to Las Vegas at No. 19 in many drafts. Another LSU linebacker to watch early is K’Lavon Chaisson. If the Raiders want to move way up, the top linebacker prospect is Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. He would likely require a trade up (more on that later). With three third round picks, Las Vegas could look to add a linebacker in that pick range as well.
Conclusion: The Raiders have a big need at linebacker, but the opportunity for improvement is there.