The lack of transactions at the linebacker position this offseason is either going to be a shrewd move or massive miscalculation by the Las Vegas Raiders. Either way, the current makeup of the position group entails belief in the continued development of those on the roster.
Like Divine Deablo, for example.
The 6-foot-3 and 226-pound 2021 third-round pick has the ideal traits needed to combat the pass-happy offenses of today’s NFL as a safety-turned-linebacker. But can Las Vegas put it all together in critical Year 3 to realize the potential the Virginia Tech product came with when he entered the league?
By The Numbers
- Divine Deablo
- 24 years old, 6-foot-3, 226 pounds
- 2022 Stats: Eight games played (eight starts), 74 total tackles (one for loss), one pass defensed, 464 snaps on defense (87 percent of Raiders total defensive snaps through eight games), 42 snaps on special teams (21 percent of team total through eight games)
A big component of the Deablo conundrum is his availability and continued clean bill of health. Deablo started in the Raiders’ first eight games of the season hardly missing a snap before a forearm injury in a Week 9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Playing in just two snaps that game, Deablo was quickly ruled out and missed the rest of the season.
But when he was healthy and available, Deablo led the Raiders in tackles with 73 and was tied for the sixth most in the league at that point. He was on a solid three-week run before the injury racking up 35 total tackles (one for loss) and was a fixture at outside linebacker on the Silver & Black defense.
As mentioned above, Deablo’s athletic profile has “fixture” written all over it. Blazing to a 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2021 at his height and weight, Deablo showcased requisite short-area burst with a 1.63 10-yard split time. While the 40 dictates long speed, in Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme, it’s the short-area burst that matters more and Deablo brings that. (Granted, a linebackers long speed often comes into play as they were often trailing or chasing anyhow).
But much of Graham’s scheme is predicated on defenders being able to read and react decisively and quickly. Deablo becoming a reliable tackling machine eight games last season was evidence he’s grown in that department.
The area which needs attention to detail, however, is the coverage aspect. Naturally, the proper assumption is Deablo should be more successful in that department having played safety in college. But the move down into the box and closer to the line of scrimmage changes the perspective and window for Deablo. And the way he’s deployed at linebacker plays a huge part in success, too.
According to Pro Football Reference, Deablo was targeted 36 times in coverage and allowed 30 of those for completions (83.3 percent completion rate) for 252 yards and three touchdowns. The average yards per completion was 8.4 and the yards per target was 7.0. The air yards and yards after catch were almost evenly split, however, at 128 and 124, respectively.
Again, the layers of the Raiders defense and Graham’s usage of Deablo looms large here. A more disruptive defensive line would help both the linebacker core and the secondary. And Graham mixing up his zone and man deployments would, too.
Add into all this the Raiders’ linebacker room that boasts eight in the position group. Deablo, free-agent signing Robert Spillane (undrafted free agent who’s been in the league for five seasons), and Curtis Bolton (undrafted) become the most experienced of the bunch that has youngsters Luke Masterson, Darien Butler, Kana’i Mauga, and rookies Amari Burney (sixth-round) and Drake Thomas (undrafted). Of that group, Deablo and Burney profile as ideal-trait cover outside linebackers while Spillane and Masterson fit the bill as steady thumping middle linebackers.
Expect open competition leading up the 53-man roster shapeup, but considering experience, ability, and potential, Deablo has a strong chance of again becoming a starter on the Raiders defense.