Heading into the offseason, the Las Vegas Raiders needed a complete overhaul at linebacker. The first big move they did to address the position was cutting loose starter and team captain Tahir Whitehead. He was a great locker room presence, but his skills didn’t translate well to the Raider defense. He’ll now have a chance to prove that he can play at a high level with the Carolina Panthers. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Whitehead is signing a one-year deal with the team.
With Luke Kuechly’s surprising retirement in the offseason, the Panthers were left with a massive need at linebacker. While there are very few players who would be able to replace one of the best linebackers of the last decade, Whitehead should compete for a starting position. He struggles in pass defense but should be solid on early downs in run defense. There’s still a chance Whitehead fills-in a backup role if the Panthers draft a linebacker early.
Raiders Revamp Linebacker Corps
Whitehead was one of the Raiders’ strongest leaders during his time with the team. Though they could miss that aspect of him, they probably won’t miss his play on the field. The team has completely revamped its linebacker corps. They’ve only added two linebackers this offseason in Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, but those two should make a big impact.
Kwiatkoski should be playing on the inside and while he hasn’t started a lot of games, he was very impressive for the Chicago Bears in pass coverage last season. The only reason they had to let him walk is because they already have too many good linebackers over there. He’s got a chance to be the steal of free agency for the Raiders.
With Littleton, Las Vegas is getting a stud and former Pro Bowler. He’s without a doubt their prize of free agency. He’s a sure-tackler and strong pass defender who should immediately improve how the team plays against tight ends. The Raiders play a lot of sets with only two linebackers on the field. Now that they have Littleton and Kwiatkoski, things should get a lot better for the defense.
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Raiders No Longer Need to Draft LB Early
The Raiders slapped 2019 starter Nicholas Morrow with a second-round tender before free agency, so it appears he’s not going anywhere. That likely means the team feels they are pretty set at linebacker heading into 2020. Las Vegas was often linked to Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma or Patrick Queen out of LSU, but it appears they will no longer be targeting them.
Considering the Raiders have huge needs at wide receiver and cornerback that they didn’t fill, those two positions will be the likely targets early in the draft. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the team wanted to add some linebacker depth in the later rounds, but the first three rounds seem unlikely. The Raiders are really close to playoff contention and another good draft could get them over the hump.