With new additions, arrives depth. The Oakland Raiders remain no stranger to the free agent market, as well as the trading block this offseason. With the new signings, players may lose starting spots or, in some cases, their jobs. However, the starting lineup should finally boast competent starters at every position.
The difficult part about these decisions is that they are not just skill based. Although skill is a major deciding factor, the Raiders seem focused on character and leadership as well. An interesting chemistry centers on Vontaze Burfict and Tahir Whitehead.
Vontaze Burfict entered the NFL in 2012. Despite being ranked the fifth-best linebacker in the 2012 draft by Mike Mayock, he went undrafted. When compared to Whitehead, Burfict is certainly more well-known. However, in this case, not all publicity is good publicity. Burfict gained popularity due to his all-out, full intensity playstyle, which earned suspensions and fines when his emotions run too hot.
Lately, many regard Burfict as a dirty player, instead of a good one. Additionally, people forget that he was one of the most dominating linebackers in 2013, his second season. Coincidentally, 2013 was the only season Burfict played and started all 16 games.
The talent was clearly there, but when Burfict has not played more than 11 games in a season since then, it can be difficult to determine if the season-long skills are still there. However, during his 11-game season in 2016, he was on pace to surpass his personal tackle record of 2013, had he played all 16 games.
Tahir Whitehead entered the league in 2012 along with Burfict. Unlike his teammate but was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Lions. In addition, unlike Burfict, Whitehead never suffered fine or suspension during his career. Whitehead has not matched Burfict’s tackle numbers. Yet, he matches the interception and fumble recoveries.
Whitehead does not possess as many accolades as Burfict, but he did finish 10th in fumble recoveries (4) in 2017. Stats aside, how will they gel as two-thirds of the presumptive starting linebackers for the Raiders?
While Burfict endured “down” year in 2018, Whitehead acclimated his new team and thrived while doing it. Whitehead enjoyed his second highest producing year in the categories of solo tackles. Plus, combined tackles, passes defensed, and interceptions increased. Whitehead also tied his personal best in number of tackles for loss.
If you throw the numbers out, how will these two co-exist on the field? In the AFC West, three other teams will feature passing games and tight ends that will test the Raiders. In San Diego, a healthy Hunter Henry, Denver with Noah Fant should test the middle of the field. More importantly, the Raiders will contend with Travis Kelce, who torched Oakland for 48 catches and four scores while compiling an 8-2 record. The Raiders need both Whitehead and Burfict to step up.