With a handful of injuries at linebacker last week, including starter Cory Littleton who exited mid-game, the Las Vegas Raiders were forced to dive into their depth chart at the position. That meant rookie Divine Deablo, who had registered 27 defensive snaps before last Sunday, was thrust into action.
Despite his lack of experience, Deablo managed to seize the opportunity and put together an impressive performance. He more than doubled his snap count for the season with 38 and finished one tackle behind Denzel Perryman for the team lead with 11 total takedowns.
The rookie was also Pro Football Focus’ 12th-highest-graded run defender (72.4) among linebackers for the week and drew some praise from the coaching staff:
“We think Divine’s been coming on in practice all the time and getting a lot more reps certainly at the WILL linebacker,” said interim head coach Rich Bisaccia during a press conference this week. “He had a chance to go in there and play for us for a little bit, and we had some injuries. We thought he did a good job, and he kept his role on (special) teams as well.”
It’s exciting to see a young player perform well as we enter the final stretch of the season and start to shift the focus towards building for the future, but we can turn on the film to see where he excelled and what he needs to improve on moving forward.
Divine Deablo using some athletic ability to make a nice play on the backside and help prevent a big play after a missed tackle pic.twitter.com/EVz9FtkUIi— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
Deablo is lined up as the mike linebacker here and will shift with the motion by the wide receiver, likely to defend against a triple-option off of this zone run by Washington. That puts him in a bit of a bind because he has to defend against the quarterback keeping the ball on the option, meaning his pre-snap momentum and initial responsibility is in the opposite direction of where the ball is actually going.
However, Deablo does a great job of reading the handoff and redirecting to the inside. Combine that with some impressive closing speed, and he’s able to make up for Solomon Thomas’ missed tackle.
To me, the linebacker’s instincts are what’s most impressive here since he’s learning a new position - he was a safety in college - and has limited experience.
This won't show up on the stat sheet for Deablo, but it's hard to find LBs who can carry a WR vertically like this pic.twitter.com/SlzTshgPGh— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
This next play won’t show up in the stat sheet but it’s a gorgeous play in coverage.
The Raiders are running cover three against this three-by-one set from the Football Team. Against that offensive formation, if the third receiver on the right side goes vertical and crosses the center, Deablo has to pick him up from his linebacker spot.
That’s a difficult assignment because he’s going to open with his back to the No. 3 receiver and eye the quarterback, so it’s hard to see the receiver’s route. Plus, this is the matchup Washington was hoping for, a linebacker on a slot receiver, with this passing concept.
However, the rookie is able to recognize the concept, turn and open his hips to run with the wideout stride for stride to take away the deep route. There aren’t many backers that have the speed to do that and it helps lead to a sack.
Deablo sniffs out and plays the screen perfectly, impressive for a rookie who is still learning a new position pic.twitter.com/yr7tXmg1fk— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
Here we’re going to see another example of good instincts from Deablo. He’s going to be at the middle linebacker spot again and Washington runs a halfback screen while Las Vegas rotates into cover three post-snap.
Playing a zone coverage against a screen can be dangerous because every underneath defender is working for depth off the snap, but Deablo reads the screen and vacates his area to come up and play it. He also does a good job of staying under control while coming downhill so that he doesn’t overrun the back and create a cutback lane. Also, if it’s a fake, he can still work backward to recover.
Then once the third-round pick sees the quarterback start to throw, he attacks the offensive lineman and uses his hands to get off the block and make the tackle for no gain.
Gotta think Deablo's inexperience hurt him here, he drops way too deep and wide and the RB goes right where he should be for an easy pitch and catch pic.twitter.com/QLoWpnVVLR— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
This next clip is an example of where I think the rookie’s inexperience is showing.
The Raiders are again running cover three against a three-by-one set, it just looks different than before because the Football Team has two tight ends to the right instead of two receivers. Personnel should be Deablo’s first clue that Washington isn’t throwing deep, or at least not with an inside receiver.
Now, the inside tight end does run a seam route that Denzel Perryman (No. 52) does have to get some depth to cover, but Deablo needs to stay home in the hook to curl area - roughly between the hashes at about the 32-yard line in this instance. Then, pass off the outside tight end running the drag route to Johnathan Abram, who’s responsible for anything short and outside of the hashes, and tackle the running back that ends up catching the ball on the right hash mark.
However, Deablo ends up working for too much depth, potentially because he’s expecting a deep over route like what we saw before, and the Football Team gets a first down on the catch and run.
Similar issue to the last one, he drops probably a little too deep and slips out of his break when trying to rally to the short curl pic.twitter.com/ccN51q7rfg— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
This is going to be another Gus Bradley special - cover three - and Deablo is put in a bit of a bind with the dig route from the left receiver and the curl through the line of scrimmage from the other side of the center. The more he sinks the more he can help on the dig, but that’s ultimately Tre’von Moehrig’s - the free safety - responsibility and Deablo only looks left so I’m not even sure if he sees that wide receiver anyway.
The linebacker drops to his appropriate depth but opens up his hips and ends up dropping too far that he can’t take away or make a play on the curl. That, combined with losing his footing when driving on the route allows Washington to pick up the first down. This is something that can get better with more experience, but he does need to make sure he stays within the structure of the play call.
Another example of Deablo helping/recovering for his teammates against the run. He has the C-gap here and Marquel Lee has A-gap, but Lee gets sealed and Deablo uses his AA to save a big play pic.twitter.com/7WSnUFAOwk— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) December 9, 2021
We’ll end on a high note.
Here’s an example of how Deablo’s athletic ability can make an impact against the run. He shifts to a standup outside linebacker position right before the snap to help set up this slant by Las Vegas’ defensive line, so he’s responsible for the C-gap.
He steps up and fulfills his gap responsibility and once the running back commits inside, Deablo has the change of direction to go make the tackle in what is actually Marquel Lee’s (No. 55) gap. That prevents a big gain, especially since Lee gets sealed by Ereck Flowers (No. 79).