Kenny Arthur touched on this in the Silver Minings post, but I felt the need to explore it more. It’s truly a time of celebration when the Raiders’ linebackers are considered elite.
When was the last time that happened? Some of us probably weren’t even born yet. Linebacker has long been a position of meager results for the Raiders. However, those days may be over — if so, it will be a stunning and sudden change.
That’s exactly what the fine folks at Pro Football Focus believe is going to happen in Las Vegas in 2020. PFF ranked the Raiders’ linebackers as the sixth best unit in the NFL. The analytics-based website believes free agent additions Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski will make a huge difference.
Here is some of the reasoning of PFF’s super-high rankings of the Raiders’ linebackers:
Littleton is a modern-day linebacker who can match up with running backs and make plays on the ball in zone coverage. His 90.3 coverage grade is fifth-best in the league over the past three years. The question for Littleton is in the run game, where he’s graded at only 48.9 over that three-year span, but that hasn’t hurt his standing as one of the league’s most valuable linebackers. Kwiatkoski is the opposite of Littleton — he loves to get dirty in the run game and can get after the quarterback as a blitzer, evidenced by his 81.8 pass-rush grade last season.
That’s what Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock had in mind when they invested a total of $57 million over the next three years in Littleton and Kwiatkoski combined. The Raiders were looking for a full overhaul at linebacker. Again, the position has long been a weak spot.
The additions of Littleton and Kwiatkoski should help immensely. If the impact is as great as PFF believes, the Raiders’ troubles on defense may fade quickly.