The Oakland Raiders brass was barely able to contain their excitement when they selected linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Mack was a player that general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen had eyes on throughout the process. Oakland sees Mack as an every down linebacker which bodes well for the position as a whole in 2014.
The addition of Mack to the Raiders linebacking corps cannot be overstated. His versatility and ability will allow defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to pick and choose where the other linebackers fit in and maximize their abilities. Mack is slated to take over the strong side spot in the Raiders base 4-3 defense. His versatility allows him to put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end as well as come off the edge in blitz situations. When he moves to the defensive line, second year man and solid pass rusher Sio Moore can step into his spot, where he played last year, and rush off the edge. That can make for a dangerous situation for opposing quarterbacks.
Middle linebacker Nick Roach offers some scheme flexibility as well. He played as an outside linebacker in Chicago before coming to Oakland last season. The Raiders put him in the middle and he showed leadership. Roach was instrumental as the quarterback of the defense making sure every player knew the call and where to line up. Roach has his struggles in pass coverage, but he excels against the run.
In 2013, the Raiders also brought Kevin Burnett in via free agency. Burnett is a veteran outside linebacker who excels against the pass. His run defense has been questioned, but last year he made improvements. He must do a better job of wrapping up because he missed far too many tackles. He amassed a team best 13 tackles for loss. His best skills as a weak side linebacker include pass coverage and being disruptive in the backfield.
Oakland also has third year linebacker Miles Burris to work back into the rotation. Burris started as a rookie, but injuries cost him a big portion of last season. He was drafted as a pass rushing linebacker and physical player. He had a trial by fire his rookie season and was exposed in coverage. He does provide some versatility to move inside.
With different skill sets that complement each other as well as the versatility and depth to move pieces around, the Raiders linebacking corps has potential to be far better. Mack really pulls this group together because of his flexibility to rush the passer and his underrated coverage ability. The Raiders will have the ability to shift linebackers in and out depending on situations. Moore and Mack are players who can flat out bring pressure. Roach is a smart leader in the middle who is solid against the run. Burnett plays the pass well and has a nose for the ball. Burris provides depth and another physical player against the run.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver is going to be able to get creative. The Raiders linebackers are not without their deficiencies, but as a unit, Tarver can use their individual strengths. Against the run, Tarver can use Mack, Roach, and Burnett or Burris. Against the pass, Tarver can let Mack and Moore go and have Burnett in coverage. They have the personnel to run multiple defenses too. If Tarver wants to go to a 3-4 scheme, Burnett and Roach are inside with Mack and Moore outside. Because of their new found versatility and depth, the Oakland defense is trending in the right direction.
Tags: Dennis Allen, Football, Jason Tarver, Kevin Burnett, Khalil Mack, Miles Burris, NFL, NFL Draft, Nick Roach, Oakland, Oakland Raiders, Reggie McKenzie, Sio Moore