Zo huddle
Photo Credit: Raiders Wire

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Raiders Final Evaluations – Inside Linebackers

Franchise Sports Media

 

 

Part Four: We return to re-examining the Las Vegas Raiders position-by-position on the Zo Huddle. Next up, the LB’s in the middle

 

Raiders vs Buccaneers
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Alright, we’re done with our Super Bowl hangover at the Zo Huddle.

No, unfortunately, Zo Huddle didn’t hit the tequila with the same voracity and energy as Tom Brady. But we’re left wondering if things on the Silver and Black need to be shaken up like a bartender using a cocktail shaker.

We last left with the outside linebackers back in January. Now we continue by examining the guys in the heart of the Raiders defense: The inside linebackers.

Did these guys fare much better than the OLB’s and other Raiders defenders? Let’s take a look:

 

The Inside ‘Backers

 

No. of ILB’s who saw action: Three (free agent pickup Raekwon McMillan also saw action inside)

Who took the most snaps: Nick Kwiatkoski, 651

Best tackler: Kwiatkoski, 81 total (53 solo)

Best pass rusher: Kwiatkoski, one sack

Best ball hawk: Kwiatkowski, one interception, one forced fumble, and four pass deflections

 

Turns out Kwiatkowski was the impact free agent pickup

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Raiders

Both Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton were signed for a combined $56.2 million to bolster the Raiders defense in the 2020 offseason. Although, Littleton was given the richer deal at $35.2 mil.

Turns out the career reserve and special teamer Kwiatkoski proved to be the better free agent signing.

Even in 12 games, Kwiatkoski was lauded for his coverage skills and ability to keep ball carriers in front of him. Regarding the former, the West Virginia Mountaineer is best revered for his one-handed interception against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 15. For the latter, Kwiatkoski showed enough discipline to react to an open gap on run plays and help finish the tackle.

The burning question now: How will he fit in Gus Bradley’s new defense?

Bradley runs a lot of Cover Three schemes, which gives linebackers a quarter of the field to cover. Given his strengths in pass defense, Kwiatkoski should be an ideal fit for Bradley’s D.

But moving onward, I caught Kwiatkoski getting tangled easily by single blockers. He also has to improve his sideline-to-sideline angles as again, most of his tackles came when he was squared up on a defender. And the Raiders struggled with containing the sidelines.

Overall, though, he’s a good building block for this new defense.

 

How effective was the last LB free agent acquisition?

 

Photo Credit: Mercury News

Raekwon McMillan was brought in via trade in Aug. 2020 on the eve of the season. The hope for Las Vegas was that he would add athleticism, tackles, and takeaways to the Raiders alongside Littleton and Kwiatkoski.

But the former Miami Dolphin was given a lowly 30.3 grade by PFF…and McMillan – who only had four games that saw him reach double digits in snap counts – is officially facing a nebulous future in Sin City.

As it was, his best statistical game happened to also have his worst plays…against his former team the Dolphins. While collecting a season-high nine tackles, he was the nearest cover defender on the Mike Gesicki 31-yard catch and missed the opening tackle opportunity on the Myles Gaskin 59-yard touchdown.

Sure, every Raiders defender had their struggles with the complicated Paul Guenther system. But still, the Raiders expected much more from the ex-Ohio State Buckeye. He’s likely on his way out.

 

Who needs to come on board

 

Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Pewter Report

Honestly, I believe the middle linebacker spot is in good hands with Kwiatkoski, so drafting an ILB shouldn’t be a pressing need for Las Vegas.

If the Raiders do turn to one of their six picks to draft an ILB, it will likely come in the later rounds.

I would envision, however, that the Raiders will look to add depth here. They would likely go after a veteran free agent for cheap who could provide breathing room plus come in with knowledge of Bradley’s defense in tow.

That’s where Nick Dzubnar comes in. The seven-year veteran played two seasons for Bradley with the Chargers and is entering the free agency market after signing a one-year deal last year with the Tennessee Titans. He’s a potential option for the Raiders’ free agency plans.

Kevin Minter could be another option. Minter was signed to a one-year deal with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers but got lost in the shuffle between Devin White and Lavonte David. He squeezed in 92 snaps this past season after tallying 290 the previous year. The 30-year-old Minter does share the Bucs connection with Jon Gruden and Bradley.

 

Post Huddle

 

There weren’t many strong links in the Raiders front seven. But Kwiatkoski earns the label of the bright spot.

Now he’ll likely be counted on to help turn around the Raiders’ misfortunes in the defense moving forward.

The Raiders will still need additional bodies to fit what Bradley envisions, but the ILB spot just needs new faces to team with Kwiatkoski moving forward.

 

Next up: Part Five – we officially head to the Raiders’ secondary and evaluate the cornerbacks.

Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle         Zo Huddle        

Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna

 

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