If there’s one word that could describe the Las Vegas Raiders’ linebacker unit in 2020, it would be ‘disappointing.’ The Raiders brought in a couple new additions last offseason, including Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton. For the Raiders defense to improve as a whole, the linebackers need to improve from last season. Let’s take a deeper dive at the Raiders’ 2021 linebacker unit.
The current projected starting linebackers for the Raiders in 2021 are about the same as it was last year. Littleton will be the starting Will linebacker, with Kwiatkoski at the Mike, and Nick Morrow will be the Sam linebacker.
At weak side linebacker, Littleton’s play last year fell far short of the expectations placed on him. When the Raiders brought in Littleton, many Raiders fans had visions of him reviving this unit. That did not happen. Many of Littleton’s issues last year can be attributed to a poor defensive scheme from Paul Guenther. A change in coordinators this offseason will suit him well. Littleton’s first offseason with the Raiders was also during the bizarre COVID-19 situation, so he gets some leeway there as well. The Raiders will be expecting some improvement from Littleton this year.
Starting at middle linebacker is Kwiatkoski. After being signed in the same offseason as Littleton, Kwiatkoski managed to be the better of the two last year. He dealt with some injury problems last year, but put together some very solid games toward the end of the season. Kwiatkoski is a very well rounded linebacker. He excels against the pass, he’s a good tackler, and can rush the pass as well. If he can stay healthy, Kwiatkoski will be a terrific asset to this defense.
Shockingly, Morrow ended up having the best season of any Raiders linebacker last year. Morrow had career highs in sacks and tackles last season with 3 and 78 respectively, while starting 14 of 16 games. In his fourth year in the league, Morrow came into his own and cemented himself as an important member of this defense. He proved himself reliable last year, and the Raiders will look for him to do the same this year.
For the backup weak side linebackers, the Raiders have Asmar Bilal and Javin White. Bilal is a 24-year-old linebacker who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers last year as an undrafted free agent. He played two games with the team, and only played 12 snaps between the two games. Bilal is essentially a rookie, and if he makes the team he will be an interesting young player to watch.
Like Bilal, White is 24 as well, and he saw the field in four games last year. He only had 12 plays on defense, but was able log 44 snaps as a special teams specialist. He’s another young name to keep an eye on.
At middle linebacker, the Raiders have James Onwualu and Max Richardson. Onwaulu has bounced around the league, and in his fifth year, the Raiders’ will be his fifth team. He’s had trouble sticking in the league, and has found himself on the IR or practice squad for most of his career.
Richardson went undrafted, but was signed by the Raiders in May. Richardson amassed a whopping 32 tackles for a loss in his career at Boston College. In 2019, Max led the ACC in tackles with 72, and had 14 tackles for a loss in that season alone. He is one of the better UDFAs this year, and the Raiders may have found a diamond in the rough with him.
Finally, backing up Morrow we have Tanner Muse and Darron Lee. Muse is essentially a rookie after struggling with injuries last year. In 2018, Lee had a great year, amassing 3 interceptions and 74 tackles in just 12 games. His career has taken a dive the last two years, but he’s managed to find a spot on the Raiders roster.
It’s worth mentioning that both Divine Deablo and Jonathan Abram are capable of playing linebacker as well, and if they do they would likely be playing strong or weak side linebacker. With that said, it’s unlikely either of them spend time anywhere but safety. Divine Deablo will open training camp on the PUP list.
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