Raiders Position Battles: Linebackers

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LB Ray-Ray Armstrong.

POSITION BATTLES: Wide Receivers | Running BacksTight Ends

You can never have enough depth at linebacker as the Raiders proved last season as Nick Roach and Sio Moore went down. Those injuries adversely affected the defense and special teams. The Silver and Black addressed this in the Draft and free agency.  

Khalil Mack | 6'3" | 252 | Buffalo | 2nd season

The 5thoverall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft was impressive during his rookie season, drawing rave reviews for his work at the point of attack and his run-stuffing ability. However, he did not register a sack until Week 11 and finished the season with just four. Mack was regularly double-teamed and held as he finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles. His best all-around game came in Week 16 when the Raiders held the Bills running backs to just 13 yards on the ground.

Bottom Line: Mack is a physical specimen with a head for the game, but his sack production must improve. He was drafted to terrorize quarterbacks. With Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith on the schedule twice a year, plus Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers,  Marcus Mariota, and Joe Flacco on the docket this year, Mack needs to do some work.


Curtis Lofton | 6' | 241 | Oklahoma | 8th season

A look at the Raiders position by position - we continue with the linebackers.

Lofton takes over in the middle for Nick Roach. Lofton has only missed one game during his entire career and has led two top-flight defenses in Atlanta and New Orleans. He recorded 144 tackles last season for the Saints. Lofton has forced 11 fumbles during his career. He has logged more than 100 tackles every year of his career except his rookie season.

Bottom Line: Lofton will be the quarterback of the defense. It will be up to him to take Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s energy and philosophies to the field.


Sio Moore | 6'1" | 240 | UCONN | 3rd Season

Moore missed much of the offseason program due to an injury suffered toward the end of the 2014 season. His energy and enthusiasm are undeniable, but his self-discipline in emotional moments could use a little work. His 90 tackles last season were good for 3rd best on the team, same with his three sacks.

Bottom Line: Moore has missed time due to injuries his first two seasons, but his productivity jumped dramatically from year one to year two. The team acquired some talent at linebacker and Moore will be pushed.


Ray-Ray Armstrong | 6'3" | 234 | Miami

Armstrong came on strong at the end of last season as he saw plenty of action due to injuries at the linebacker position. He has had an impressive offseason as the coaches and media have taken notice. Armstrong is very athletic and can really run. He made his first career start at Kansas City last year and got in on 11 tackles.

Bottom Line: If Armstrong continues on his current path, he could find himself among the starting trio of linebackers.


Malcolm Smith | 6' | 226 | USC | 5th Season

The former Super Bowl MVP comes over from the Seattle Seahawks. A little undersized, Smith's game revolves around speed and quickness. He is a heady player who has a knack for making the big play when it's needed.

Bottom Line: Smith could carve out a niche as a coverage linebacker in obvious passing situations.


Ben Heeney | 6' | 231 | Kansas | 5th round

Heeney, taken in the 5th round of this year's draft, was a tackling machine at Kansas, leading the Big 12 in solo tackles as a senior. His "happy to be here" mentality is a breath of fresh air. The former All-Big 12 first teamer certainly looks the part with an epic beard.

Bottom Line: You never really know what you have in a mid-round rookie linebacker until you get to training camp and the pads go on. But, Heeney should be able to find a place on special teams to start.


Neiron Ball | | 6'2" | 236 | Florida | 5th round

The second of two linebackers taken in the 5th round, Ball is rangy and athletic. He chalked up 94 tackles (37 solo), 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one INT, four passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 45 games at Florida.

Bottom Line: Another young, hungry athlete who will have to earn his way on special teams.


Spencer Hadley | 6'1" | 227 | BYU | 2nd season

Hadley, who worked with the scout team as a fullback (he played running back in high school) last season, had a little run on the active roster at the end of the year and saw action in the last two games. Lunch pail kind of guy, comes to work every day, the kind of player who just wants to get on the field. Racked up 149 tackles (77 solo), 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and two INTs in 43 games at BYU.

Bottom Line: The more you can do, right? There is real competition for the depth/special teams slots at linebacker. Hadley is going to have to bring it.


Horace Miller | 6'1" | 247 | UTEP | 1st Season

Miller, built like a run-plugging middle linebacker, has spent the beginning of his career as a journeyman practice squad player after entering the league as an undrafted free agent. Totaled 120 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 13 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble and three passes defensed at UTEP.

Bottom Line:  As with all players who begin their careers this way, Miller will have to outshine his peers and show something special during camp and the preseason.


Josh Shirley | 6'2" | 234 | UNLV | UDFA

Players like him don't get signed as undrafted free agents for nothing. His college career was unconventional to say the least. He played one year at UNLV after transferring from Washington. Shirley enrolled at UNLV as a graduate student and played as a fifth-year graduate transfer after obtaining a bachelor's degree at Washington. He played in 13 games in his final season, posting 20 total tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. In three seasons at Washington, he racked up 18 sacks and 25 tackles for loss and forced nine fumbles.

Bottom Line:  Good size, it'll be interesting to see if he can recapture his Washington productivity.


Chase Williams | 6'2" | 215 | Virginia Tech | UDFA

Williams totaled 101 tackles (44 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 47 games at Virginia Tech. He actually saw action as a kick returner as well. A bit undersized for an NFL linebacker. Bottom Line: What does Williams have to offer? What does he bring to the table? Another player that will have to show something special in training camp and the preseason.

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