It looks like the Raiders’ overhaul of the linebacker position is now complete. Saturday the team completed a trade with the Dolphins to acquire Raekwon McMillan in a swap of 2021 draft selections.
The first two parts of the overhaul were the free-agent additions of Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Those signings were a significant upgrade, specifically in coverage. But in those efforts, the one area that was left unaddressed was finding a linebacker to stop the run.
That’s where Raekwon McMillan comes in.
Stopping the run is the fourth-year linebacker’s specialty. Watch how he sought out and destroyed runners for the Dolphins.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 29, 2020
McMillan played 290 snaps last season compared to 180 snaps in coverage. On those plays against the run, he received a grade of 77 from Pro Football Focus, which is 15th best in the league. While his grade is coverage was a dismal 43.4.
Comparatively, Kwiatkoski is 45th against the run with a 67.1 grade and Littleton is 56th with a 64.7 grade.
The league average for teams in the NFL to play either nickel or dime defense is around 80%. But that goes down against run-heavy offense. And even pass-heavy offenses will have several times per drive in which the defense will find itself in an obvious run situation and if they don’t have specialty players like McMillan to stop it, the defense will never get off the field.
Marquel Lee was that guy, but he failed his physical at the beginning of camp and was released. Clearly they don’t feel like any of the additions they made since then are the answer either.
Nick Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot as the team’s middle linebacker, but he is much better against the pass, as is Cory Littleton. So, against run-heavy teams and in those short-yardage situations, the team can bring in McMillan alongside Littleton and Kwiatkoski for a more standard 4-3 alignment, giving them their best chance.