2018 Position Review: Linebackers

After breaking down the Oakland Raiders running backs yesterday, today we move back to the defensive side of the football, and take a look at the Silver and Black’s linebackers.

Paced by free agent acquisition Tahir Whitehead, the Raiders linebacking corps largely stayed intact from Week 1 to Week 17, and as was the case with the team’s defense as a whole, the group finished the year arguably playing their best football of the season.

That said, let’s look back at the play of the group from top to bottom, and see what things could look like for the collective in 2019.

Overview:

After six, ultra-productive seasons as a Detroit Lion, the Raiders signed Tahir Whitehead in free agency to provide some consistency in their linebacking corps, and the former Temple Owl did that – and then some – in his first year in Oakland.

Whitehead started all 16 games – talk about consistently, am I right – and not only did he play nearly every snap of every game, he finished the year with 126 total tackles, 68 more than Marquel Lee, who finished second on the team.

In addition to Whitehead, the Raiders also had another veteran presence in the room – at least for part of the year – in the form of Derrick Johnson.

The four-time Pro Bowler appeared in just six games as a Raider before he was ultimately released on October 16, but during his short tenure in Silver and Black, Johnson imparted a plethora of knowledge on the young nucleus of Raiders linebackers.

Speaking of that young nucleus – after Whitehead and Johnson, there really was a youth movement afoot in David Lippincott’s group last year.

Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow each played all 16 games in their sophomore seasons in Silver and Black, and both showed the type of jump you’d like to see a young player take in their second pro seasons.

Lee totaled 58 tackles in 2018, while Morrow finished with 37, proving to be quality contributors for Paul Guenther’s defense.

In addition to Lee and Morrow, undrafted rookie Jason Cabinda made 10 appearances after being promoted from the team’s practice squad, finishing his rookie campaign with 21 tackles at middle linebacker.

Kyle Wilber also tallied eight tackles, but he really made his hay as a core special teamer on Rich Bisaccia’s unit.

The Number To Know:

126.

The number of tackles Tahir Whitehead tallied last season, which like I said earlier, was clearly the best mark on the Raiders defense this year.

Not only that, the number was the seventh-most by a linebacker in Raiders history, and good for the ninth-most by any player in the NFL last year.

Position Group MVP:

No surprise here, but Whitehead is getting the nod on this one.

Coming into 2018, we knew that the veteran linebacker was a tackling machine, but this dude was on another level this season.

Not only did he seemingly have more than a dozen tackles each time out, Whitehead rarely – if ever – came off the field, and that type of consistency is an incredible luxury for any team to have.

I’m fired up to see what Year 2 as a Raider will bring for No. 59.

Reviewing the Raiders linebackers from the 2018 season.

Going Forward:

In a bit of an exception to the rule compared to the rest of the Raiders roster, the linebacking corps is mostly under contract for 2019.

Now, Shilique Calhoun is technically a restricted free agent, and Jason Cabinda is an exclusive rights free agent, but besides them, Tahir Whithead, Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee, and Kyle Wilber are all inked for next year.

Are there areas that the position group can be improved going forward? Absolutely, and I’m sure that Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock will do everything in their power to do just that, but in terms of moving pieces, this group looks fairly well put together headed into the new league year.

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