With less than 100 days until opening kickoff, the Oakland Raiders will soon have an idea on what their 53-man active roster looks like. As it currently stands, the middle linebacker position figures to get an upgrade over the coming weeks, as the team lacks a bonafide starter and veteran presence at the moment.
The Raiders have high hopes for the newly drafted Marquel Lee, but it’s unfair to assume he’ll be ready to anchor the defense as early as September. With that being said, there are many free agents still out there that can improve what’s arguably the biggest weakness for a stacked Raiders squad.
Let’s look at some options general manager Reggie McKenzie may pursue as the offseason continues to roll on.
Perry Riley Jr.: A midseason acquisition for the Raiders last season, Riley Jr. accumulated 48 tackles and two forced fumbles in 11 starts.
The seven-year veteran was especially efficient against stopping the run in 2016 and earned a solid Pro Football Focus grade of 84.8 — second-best among free agent linebackers and only behind the New England Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower’s 85.7 mark.
While the Raiders and Riley Jr. haven’t agreed to terms yet, it’s likely that the two parties will eventually hammer out a deal before Training Camp opens up in July.
DeAndre Levy: The 30-year old has appeared in just six combined games dating back to 2015, but is only three seasons removed from a breakout campaign in 2014.
That year for the Detroit Lions, Levy tallied 155 tackles, 2.5 sacks and added an interception to go along with five passes defended in 16 games. If healthy again, Levy figures to be a low-risk, high-reward signing for any team that takes a chance on him.
Rey Maualuga: The long-time Cincinnati Bengal hits free agency after being released by the club in March. In 14 games last season (six starts), Maualuga registered 27 tackles with an interception and two passes defended.
However, Maualuga graded rather poorly with PFF (38.2) and was a liability in pass coverage — a department the Raiders need to improve in.
D’Qwell Jackson: Jackson, who spent the last three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, racked up 78 tackles in 12 games during the 2016-17 season. It was the first time in seven years that Jackson didn’t start in all 16 games and saw his numbers drop in every major statistical category.
Like Maualuga, Jackson didn’t favor well with PFF’s metrics either (43.0 overall grade) and turns 34 in September. The Raiders may prefer a younger alternative at the position and look elsewhere, but his leadership and experience on the field speaks for itself.
Kelvin Sheppard: Appearing in all 16 games for the New York Giants last season, Sheppard picked up 47 tackles and two passes defended. The 29-year old was among the lowest-graded free agent linebackers by PFF (39.1) but has 57 career starts under his belt in six seasons since entering the league in 2011.
Daryl Washington: Looking to resume his playing career for the first time since the 2013-14 season, Washington can prove to be a worthwhile signing for teams looking to improve their depth. In his last full season with the Arizona Cardinals, the now 30-year old recorded 75 tackles with three sacks and two interceptions in 12 games.
The previous year, Washington was selected to his first Pro Bowl game after registering 134 tackles and nine sacks in 16 regular season starts — excelling in both pass coverage and run stop percentage.
If all else fails for the Raiders, the team could take a flier on Washington and hope he returns as close to form as possible.