Overview:General Manager Reggie McKenzie found a diamond in the rough with David Amerson in 2015, claiming the rangy cornerback via waivers in the early stages of the regular season. Well, McKenzie went digging once again in 2016, and once again he hit it rich, signing Perry Riley, Jr. to the active roster after an early-season injury ended Ben Heeney's sophomore campaign in Silver and Black. The former Washington Redskin ended up starting all 11 games he was on the roster for, and finished the season with 62 tackles, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles, really becoming a mainstay in the middle of the Raiders defense. Along with Riley, Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith handled a majority of the linebacking duties, starting a combined 31 games in 2016. While the trio of Riley, Irvin, and Smith were on the field for the bulk of the defensive snaps last season, in general, the group as a whole was able to find ways to contribute. After being selected in the sixth round (No. 194 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, Corey James appeared in all 16 games for the Silver and Black, making five starts, and Daren Bates became a stalwart on the Raiders special teams units, finishing the year with seven special teams tackles. Tyrell Adams, who was promoted to the active roster in late November, also appeared in six games primarily on special teams.
By The Numbers:Not only did Bruce Irvin finish his first season as a Raider with seven sacks (the most since his rookie season in 2012), he also tallied six forced fumbles, more than he had in his first four seasons as a Seattle Seahawk combined.
Going Forward:As the Raiders prepare to make a run at the AFC West title in 2017, one thing they won't have to worry about is the future of the "Slash Brothers." Khalil Mack is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and with Bruce Irvin under contract for 2017 and beyond, one of the league's most versatile pass rushing duos will remain intact. However, while No. 51's future in Silver and Black is concrete, the same cannot be said for Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley, Jr., who are both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the onset of the new league year. Smith was a big ticket free agent acquisition heading into 2015, and the former Super Bowl MVP has appeared in every game save one since joining the Raiders, and he put together a productive 2016 that saw him lead the team with 115 total tackles. Riley also put together an impressive first season in Oakland, instilling a hardnosed, veteran presence in the middle of the Raiders defense, so I'll be interested to see how General Manager Reggie McKenzie addresses both their futures in the coming weeks. One player to keep an eye on – who is under contract for 2017 – is Cory James. In his first media session as a Raider, the former Colorado State Ram said he was initially planning on making his mark on special teams, but little did he know that he would end up in the starting lineup come Week 3. James ended up making five starts, and I'll be interested to see how he develops heading into his second NFL season.
An exclusive look back at the linebackers from the 2016 season.
Standout Performer:While I think Perry Riley, Jr. has a legitimate claim to this throne, I'm going to have to give it to Baby Reggie himself, Bruce Irvin. Not only did Irvin appear in all 16 games for the Raiders, he became the much-needed complementary pass rusher to pair with Khalil Mack. Every Batman needs a Robin, and Irvin more than lived up to that role in 2016. His seven sacks were just one off from a career high, and his six forced fumbles were tied for tops in the NFL. Irvin put together a quality first season as a Raider, one that in fact should have probably ended in a trip to the Pro Bowl in Orlando.