When it comes to the Oakland Raiders defense, most can agree on a few different things. First and foremost, we can pretty much all agree that the defense has looked bad in the preseason and borderline terrible at times. We can pretty much also agree that two of the biggest problems on defense can be found at linebacker and cornerback.
What there isn’t a lot of agreement on is whether corner or linebacker is a bigger concern heading into the season.
Why does this matter? Because in just a few days, hundreds of players will be cut as teams trim their rosters from 90 men to 53 men. And as that happens. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie will undoubtedly be paying very close attention to those who are cut. But what position will he target first if there are both linebackers and corners he believes are worth signing?
We won’t know what McKenzie is thinking if and until he actually makes a move to sign someone who was cut. But if it was me? There’s absolutely no question that I would be targeting corner above all else and here’s why.
IMPORTANCE OF THE POSITION
In today’s NFL, defenses spend more than 60% of their time in subpackages. That means nickel or dime packages where there are fewer or possibly even no linebackers. Teams are passing more and more and with that comes a change in how the game is played. Nickel corners are no longer depth guys, they’re starters. Dime corners are no longer guys who rarely saw the field, they see the field in pretty much every game now.
Meanwhile, with the increasing importance of pass defense comes the diminishing importance of run defense. Before anyone freaks out, I’m not saying run defense isn’t important. But when you compare today’s NFL even to the NFL of 10 years ago, you will find that corners are playing a much larger role in the NFL while linebackers are playing a lesser role than in the past. That’s why Reggie McKenzie and company don’t invest much draft capital or free agent spending on linebackers. They simply aren’t as crucial to a good team as they used to be.
Part of this is just a numbers game, plain and simple. At any given time, the Raiders could have four corners on the field. But with the defense they run, the largest number of off the ball linebackers is two. And that makes this a good time to explain that when discussing needs at linebacker, we are talking about off ball linebackers, not edge rushers like Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
So, while you will only have two linebackers not named Irvin or Mack on the field at any given time, you will see three or four corners on the field more often than not.
DEPTH BETTER AT LINEBACKER THAN CORNER
Because of how many players you’d have on a given field at a given time, the depth at linebacker is far better than it is at corner. After your first four corners, Sean Smith, David Amerson, T.J. Carrie and Gareon Conley, who do you have left? Dexter McDonald, Breon Borders and Anthony Hamilton, three guys I’d prefer to never hit the field.
With linebacker, let’s say Jelani Jenkins and Cory James are the two starters. backing them up are Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow and Tyrell Adams. And while none of those three are overly impressive, every one of those three has shown me more than McDonald, Borders and Hamilton have shown me.
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