2013 saw a complete overhaul of the Oakland Raiders linebacking corps. The only returning members were second year players Miles Burris and Kaelin Burnett. Picking up bargain veteran options, General Manager Reggie Mckenzie brought in Kaelin’s brother, 8-year veteran Kevin Burnett to play weakside linebacker; as well as signing 6-year veteran middle linebacker Nick Roach.
Roach and Burnett brought consistency and leadership to the Raiders’ ravaged defense. Although they weren’t lights out players, they performed admirably. Roach was a strong facilitator, making sure the defense was lined up correctly and usually was one of the hardest working players. Although his grade from Pro Football Focus doesn’t show it, he was an invaluable asset to the Raiders.
Here, Burnett takes on the offensive lineman, which allows Roach to flow and make the tackle.
Burnett was an above average starter who excelled in coverage. Despite being on his fourth team, still showed he is an underrated linebacker on any team.
In the third round of the 2013 draft, Oakland drafted linebacker Sio Moore out of Conneticut. Moore was labeled as a undersized pass rusher linebacker, and was worked in as the starting strongside linebacker. When in base personnel, the Raiders used a lot of 4-3 under defenses, where Moore moves down to the line of scrimmage, giving the appearance of a 3-4 defense. Defensive coordinator also subbed him in for defensive end Jason Hunter in obvious passing down roles.
With more development, Moore could eventually become what Kameron Wimbley was to Oakland: a Von-Miller role as strongside linebacker who rushes the passer on third down.
Behind them is some decent depth. Burris started 15 games in 2012, but was exposed as a horrific tackler. After undergoing a problematic knee scope in the offseason, Burris did not recover enough to play until week 12. In the final six, games he only played 41 defensive snaps, seeing the majority of his playing time on special teams. If Burris can make the 53-man roster in 2014, he will remain a backup.
Kaluka Maiava was signed last offseason and expected to contribute to step in at strongside linebacker. After appearing in only nine games before landing on injured reserve, he is expected to be cut loose in 2014, mostly due to his $1.5 million salary and the development of Moore.
The younger Burnett brother played in all 16 games, but only had 5 defensive snaps. He was one of their special teams stalwarts, playing on both coverage and return units. Marshall McFadden played in four games and was strictly used on special teams. McFadden is likely to be cut if the Raiders can find younger, better talent.
In the dire roster of the Raiders, their starting linebackers are somewhat set and probably the least pressing need on the team. If a cheap, talented veteran or late round draft pick is available, Mckenzie might make the move to upgrade on Roach or the elder Burnett. But that is unlikely given the serious holes elsewhere on the roster.
Their only plans should be to attempt to cheaply upgrade the depth behind Roach, Burnett, and Moore. There should not be any concerns with the roster if those starting three remain healthy and play close to the level they performed at in 2013, the Raiders should be fine.