The linebacking unit is the strongest single position group on the Oakland Raiders roster, and by a good amount. This, however, should not be surprising considering the fact that general manager Reggie McKenzie is a former NFL linebacker himself. In fact, in his three offseasons with the team, if nothing else, McKenzie has shown a knack for evaluating linebackers.
But while the linebackers have been good the past few seasons, this year’s group could be special. The starters are likely going to be Sio Moore at the weak side position, Nick Roach holding down the middle and rookie Khalil Mack manning the strong side spot. Behind them is a solid group of backups in Miles Burris, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava. There is also potential for one of two undrafted free agents to make the team in Carlos Fields or Bojay Filimoeatu.
In the starting group, the only real concern is Roach at middle linebacker. The former Chicago Bear was originally an outside linebacker before moving inside to replace Brian Urlacher. After impressing in Chicago, he was signed to the Raiders in order to play the same position, but he is still not a prototype middle linebacker in a 4-3. Roach is a little undersized, and it showed in 2013 when he had issues getting off of blocks. The Raiders have a stacked rotation of defensive tackles who will be playing in front of him, so there’s hope they’ll it easier for him to roam the field unencumbered.
On the outsides, the Raiders are stacked. Second year player Sio Moore impressed everyone his rookie season, showing early on that he was much better than his third round draft status would indicate. Moore had some issues in his rookie year, but he also flashed a lot of potential as a pass rusher. He was also solid in the run game and able to drop in to coverage fairly well. He was easily the best rookie on the team in 2013, and probably the squad’s best first-year player in a very long time.
Then there is Khalil Mack. Heading into the NFL draft, no one expected Mack to fall to the Raiders with the fifth pick. But after a couple of surprising picks in the top five, the Raiders’ dream came true. They did not hesitate to take the player some believe was the most talented in the entire draft. He’s a complete player, someone who’s always around the ball and plays with that “motor” that everyone wants to see on defense. He was seen as such a high pick because of his ability to rush the passer, but he is no slouch in run defense or dropping into coverage. He is the definition of a three-down player.
As far as backups go, it is hard to argue with what the Raiders have. Maiava is a special teams stud who also provides solid depth at linebacker. But it’s Burris and Burnett who make their overall depth so impressive. Both guys have starting experience in the NFL and could probably start for a number of clubs.
Since this is the strongest unit on the entire team, fans can expect defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and head coach Dennis Allen to have some fun using these guys to confuse and disrupt offenses all season long. And with their top two linebackers being so young, they should only get better throughout this season and in the coming years.
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