We’ve heard this story before as Raiders fans. The team signs a linebacker in the twilight of his career. Many hope that player can bring the same level of play that was seen earlier (Navarro Bowman, Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Marshall) but in those cases it never worked out.
But KJ Wright could be different. Unlike those other players, there wasn’t a drop off in his play in the last couple of seasons. In fact he has put together “Teach Tape” with incredible amount of technique and discipline.
Wright, of course, got his start under current Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The 6’3, 245 pound linebacker played Sam or “Otto” linebacker early in his career before becoming the top weakside linebacker option for the Seahawks in Nickel. Wright isn’t just familiar with Bradley’s scheme like Yannick Ngakoue or Casey Hayward. He’s become a master in his own right and is one of the most technically proficient linebackers in football because of his expertise in coverage and filling against the run.
Wright will be like another coach on the field for the Raiders and in the linebacker room much like McCoy and Hayward have become for their respective position groups. Let’s look at his play and how it translates to 2021.
KJ Wright had a brilliant season in coverage this past season in what might possibly be his last hurrah as a Seahawk— kj's gone (@cmikesspinmove) May 15, 2020
He was matching seams, ROBOTing p/a crosses, canceling multiple reads, and RAT-ing with the best of them despite declining athleticism
Elite eyes and technique. pic.twitter.com/pAN6NKamUq
Wright (number 50 in Seattle) executes various zone drops in the above clip and several times moves on from his initial assignment to squeeze the zone for the receiver coming into his area late in the down. The above clips have little to do with athletic ability and more hinge upon his mental quickness and preparation.
Living in heavy Cover 3 scheme his entire career, Wright understands the routes that are coming and what can hurt the scheme. His knowledge will be invaluable. Wright has excelled as the weakside linebacker in Seattle during his career so he certainly warrants a chance to compete for a starting position there.
However with Cory Littleton’s edge on natural ability and athleticism there’s a chance Wright would play more in base personnel as the Sam, much like he did earlier in his career under Bradley.
Watch Brian Baldinger’s film room for more on KJ Wright’s approach and incredible grasp of the defense he is about to enter.
dope fit from KJ Wright to fall back and shoot into the B gap v split zone. winds ball back to Bobby who is new backside force. clark spills the TE. pic.twitter.com/B6Vic4uxSI— kj's gone (@cmikesspinmove) December 13, 2020
Where Wright will be most valuable however in the short term will be his run defense. With that being an area where Littleton struggles, and Tanner Muse is still developing, Wright is an easy upgrade over either and could prove to be integral in the Week 1 matchup against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
In the play above Wright reads the “zone slice” action in the backfield with the fullback coming across the formation to block the backside DE. Wright diagnoses the action and pulls the trigger, hitting the fullback before he can execute the block on the intended player. Wright effectively ruins this play above with his instincts and mental processing alone.
Wright is aging, sure. Maybe he won’t be as impactful as he has been in Seattle. But his presence alone gives a big boost to the Raiders’ defense.