Last season, the Oakland Raiders defense did far more to hold the team back than it did to help the team move forward. Because of that, it was no surprise that defense was the main focus of the draft with Oakland taking six defensive players. But even after adding six players through the draft and a seventh through free agency, there are still holes on the Raiders roster.
Where? Well, Jack Del Rio was kind enough to share his thoughts on the matter just the other day: “I don’t know that we’ve adequately addressed our middle linebacker position, to be hones” said Del Rio in an interview with the NFL Network.
The Raiders added two guys capable of playing middle linebacker in Jelani Jenkins and Marquel Lee but neither is the kind of player who gives you hope of being the solution. Instead, they look like stop gaps at linebacker while the Raiders addressed other issues on defense first.
And while it’s frustrating to go yet another year without an answer at middle linebacker, it’s also not a bad way to go about rebuilding your defense.
The NFL is more and more a passing dominated league. Since 2011, NFL teams have played more snaps in defensive sub packages (nickel, dime etc) than in their “base” package (4-3 or 3-4). And each year since 2011, the percentage of plays spent in a sub package has risen. Most of the time, going to a sub package means adding defensive backs at the expense of linebackers (sure, on hail Mary plays, you may add DBs at the expense of DL as well).
Because of the continued trend of the sub package being your true base package, it made sense for the Raiders to focus their attention first on the secondary, second on the pass rush and last on linebackers.
In the draft, that’s exactly what the Raiders did by taking two defensive backs and a pass rushing defensive tackle with their first three picks. You could argue they should have taken a linebacker before an offensive tackle but when looking solely at how Reggie McKenzie is going about rebuilding the defense, it makes sense.
The focus on the secondary also makes sense when you consider the cap. Corners are some of the highest paid players in the NFL, as are pass rushers. Meanwhile, linebackers are not ones who break the bank, especially when you’re talking about middle linebackers. Getting young secondary players and pass rushers who are on rookie deals will go a long way towards keeping the cap in good shape despite having big number guys like Derek Carr and Khalil Mack on the team.
So yes, it’s frustrating that linebacker will be a weakness once again. But at the same time, I can’t really complain about the plan for rebuilding what was a terrible defense last year.