Heading back to the start of the 2019 season, the Oakland Raiders had four linebackers rostered. For an insight on how few that is, the Raiders sported four quarterbacks. Fast forward to the 2020 preseason, and the Las Vegas Raiders bolstered their linebacker corps with two of the best free-agent linebackers: Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.
Cory Littleton has come to form in his last two seasons, recording five interceptions and 259 tackles, while starting all 32 possible regular-season games. He has also displayed an impressive eye for the ball, as he defended nine passes, forced two fumbles, and recovered four more in 2019 alone.
Littleton has proven himself to be a utility linebacker by shutting down both the run and the pass. The former Ram also recorded 3.5 sacks in 2019. Hopefully, the Raiders do not end up in a repeat situation where a linebacker is forced to be on the field for 90+% of potential snaps (Tahir Whitehead), but if they did Littleton certainly has the talent to be that guy.
Also, in one of the more underrated moves of the offseason, the Raiders signed former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski. While Littleton profiles as a do-it-all type of player, Kwiatkowski has his skillset a little more defined. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has ranked Kwiatkoski within the top 15 off-the-ball linebackers since 2017. Despite being used as more of a rotational linebacker in Chicago, Kwiatkoski should play an increased role. Kwiatkoski’s usage in Chicago belies his potential. The Bears employ nine tight ends rostered, meaning Kwiatkoski looks expendable.
Ax to Grind
Kwiatkoski also appears to have lost his position battle with Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Regardless, the Raiders should be very content with their recent signing. The combination of Littleton and Kwiatkoski could be absolutely lethal. With Littleton acting as a hybrid and Kwiatkoski filling the run-stopping, quarterback crushing, “muscle” role, the Raiders have the potential for a “12-man roster.” Due to Littleton’s flexibility, the Raiders could excel versus the pass while also having six with an eye for the run.