Based on the Las Vegas Raiders‘ early activity in free agency, it was clear they wanted to fix their linebacker corps. The first move the team made was to sign former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. He’s not a household name yet and he was mainly a backup during his time in the Windy City, but he showed up a lot of promise when Danny Trevathan got hurt.
A really exciting part about Kwiatkoski’s game is that he excels in pass coverage. That’s an area the Raiders needed a lot of help in and that should be a strength from their linebacker corps now. In fact, Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report believes Kwiatkoski will be a breakout player in 2020:
Based on his prospective position and responsibility, Kwiatkoski could develop into a quality three-down linebacker. Along with an increased workload, he can expand on his production.
Despite a limited role in Chicago, Kwiatkoski, along with edge-rusher Khalil Mack, led the team in tackles for loss (eight) last season. With his combination of quickness, short-area coverage and reliable tackling, the Raiders’ new linebacker is primed for a breakout.
Kwiatkoski Will Wear Green Dot for Raiders
Kwiatkoski wasn’t the only linebacker the team added in free agency. The Raiders also signed a much bigger name in former Los Angeles Rams Pro Bowler Cory Littleton. He’s the flashier player and getting more money, but Kwiatkoski may have more responsibility for the defense, according to the Raiders’ general manager.
“I think what we’ve been able to do is spread around the money a little bit in free agency to plug some holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that needed to be plugged,” Mike Mayock said in a recent conference call. “We’ve done it with guys that are both young and have a consistent amount of playing ability, and a lot of them have been starters. You talk about the linebackers — Cory Littleton covers as well as anybody in the league. We feel like [Nick] Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot and fit in seamlessly with what we do.”
If Kwiatkoski does end up wearing the green dot, that means he’ll be the one communicating with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Littleton is as talented a linebacker as there is in the NFL, but he’s not particularly vocal. Having Kwiatkoski worry about leading the defense while Littleton focuses on making plays is a good call by the Raiders.
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Don’t Sleep on Maliek Collins
Kwiatkoski is a good breakout candidate, but he’s not the only one on the Raiders. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins was a sneaky good pickup by Mayock and crew. He’s a really strong pass rusher from the interior defensive line and the team got him on the cheap.
“Maliek Collins, [Raiders defensive line coach] Rod [Marinelli] obviously coached him last year and Rod jumped up on the table in support of what this kid could be,” Mayock said.
Collins had four sacks in 2019 and while those aren’t Aaron Donald numbers, they are a bit misleading. He created 48 quarterbacks pressures last season, which was more than any player on the entire Raiders defense. Collins knows how to get after the quarterback and putting him next to Maurice Hurst on third downs could be a scary combination for the team.