Divine Deablo

Raiders Looking To Add Another Linebacker?

After losing starting linebacker Denzel Perryman to free agency and allowing Jayon Brown to walk after ending the year on injured reserve, the Raiders’ linebacker depth is a bit sparse. According to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, it would make a lot of sense for Las Vegas to sign a veteran free agent or two before the year starts.

Only eight linebackers saw snaps for the Raiders last seasons, so with eight currently on the roster, the number of bodies is a problem but maybe not the most pressing one. The steep decline in experience and talent is a more troubling situation, though. Last year’s group was led by the Pro Bowler Perryman, second-year starter Divine Deablo, and Brown. Due to various injuries, each of the three missed at least five games last year, with Deablo and Brown appearing in just under half of the team’s contests. The absence of their top players led Las Vegas to lean on undrafted rookie Luke Masterson and veteran Blake Martinez. The team also utilized Harvey Langi, Darien Butler, and Curtis Bolton, but the three were mainly relegated to special teams.

Deablo returns to lead a group of de facto starters that includes free agent signing Robert Spillane and Masterson. None of the three have ever started for more than half of an NFL season, but all will enter 2023 as full-time starters. Deablo was off to a strong sophomore season before injury, racking up 74 total tackles in just eight games as a full-time starter. After initially signing as an undrafted free agent with the Titans, Spillane broke out in 2020 as an injury replacement for Steelers starter Devin Bush. Bush’s return resulted in a diminished role for Spillane the next year, but he finally earned more time on defense last season in Pittsburgh. Masterson handled himself admirably when thrust into action as a rookie last year, but ultimately, he has a ways to go before proving himself to be an asset to the starting lineup.

Aside from those three contributors, the team returns reserves Bolton, Butler, and Kana’i Mauga, an undrafted rookie who didn’t see any playing time last season in Las Vegas. While those three didn’t contribute much last year and shouldn’t be relied upon too much this season, perhaps some depth will be provided from the team’s sixth-round draft pick out of Florida, Amari Burney. Burney projects as an outside linebacker after serving in a hybrid safety/linebacker role for the Gators throughout his career. He started all 13 of the team’s games as a fifth-year senior and added strong contributions with 79 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. He provides some versatility, as well, as he tallied two interceptions, four passes defensed, and two forced fumbles. The Raiders also signed NC State’s Drake Thomas as an undrafted free agent. Thomas was a tackling machine in Raleigh, reaching 99 and 101 total tackles over his final two seasons, respectively. Over that time, the disruptive defender tallied 32.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. If he can contribute near the same level as a pro, Thomas could add to the list of undrafted linebackers getting significant playing time on the Raiders defense.

It’s hard to determine who Las Vegas might pursue to add some depth and experience to the room. Former Viking and Cowboy Anthony Barr is available and, although he’s 31 years old, he still started 10 games for Dallas last season. Brown is still available if healthy and agreeable to a return. A couple years separated from a Pro Bowl season, Jaylon Smith is available after starting 11 games for the Giants last year. Rashaan Evans is still fairly young and hit free agency after starting every game for the Falcons last season and racking up 159 total tackles. Kwon Alexander and Zach Cunningham should be available for relatively cheap, as well.

It does look like Las Vegas could desperately use some more experienced bodies in the linebackers room, especially after the onslaught of injuries they dealt with in 2022. There are plenty of options available out there if the team is looking. The Raiders just need to find the right fit for the right price or settle for what they’re working with.

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/7/22

Here are Monday’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Cincinnati Bengals

Detroit Lions

Las Vegas Raiders

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

  • Designated for return: G Shane Lemieux
  • Placed on IR: DT Nicholas Williams

Lemieux has been out since September 2021. A severe knee injury paused Lemieux’s career, sidelining him after he had commandeered a starting job. The Giants drafted Lemieux in the 2020 fifth round and turned to him as a starter for much of his rookie season. But the team’s new regime addressed the interior line extensively this offseason, signing Mark Glowinski and Jon Feliciano before drafting Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan.

The Giants, however, lost McKethan for the season and are without starting left guard Ben Bredeson. The team having Lemieux and former center starter Nick Gates, who also battled back from a severe injury, back will provide some options for Brian Daboll up front. Bredeson, whom the team placed on IR last week, will be a candidate to be one of Big Blue’s injury activations later this season.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/18/22

Today’s minor moves around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Indianapolis Colts

  • Placed on IR: TE Drew Ogletree (story)

Las Vegas Raiders

New England Patriots

New Orleans

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Young signed with the Raiders in May, as part of their re-vamped linebacker corps. The 27-year-old gradually grew into a larger defensive role with the Ravens before being traded midseason to the Rams in 2019. He was dealt once again last year, from Los Angeles to Denver. Starting all 13 games he appeared in between the two teams, the UCLA product had a career-year in 2021, but hasn’t done enough during training camp to catch on in Sin City. The Raiders will move forward with the likes of Denzel PerrymanDivine Deablo and free agent signings Jayon Brown and Micah Kiser in the middle of their defense.

AFC Notes: Deablo, Koonce, Zappe

The Raiders turned heads when they selected offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood in the first round of the 2021 draft. His play as a rookie didn’t ease concerns that he represented a reach being taken that high, but other rookies provided cause for optimism in 2022 and beyond.

In a breakdown of the entire class’ roster standing and outlook for the upcoming campaign, Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes that a number of players the Raiders drafted after Leatherwood impressed in their inaugural seasons, and are in line for larger workloads in 2022. One of those is linebacker Divine Deablo, whom the Raiders chose at N0. 80 last year.

The Virginia Tech alum spent his rookie season converting from safety, which he played in college. He finished the season strong, though, starting five games and making 45 tackles. His pass coverage was a sore spot, leading to a PFF grade of only 53.7 in that department. Still, the departure of veteran Cory Littleton should open up a permanent starting role for Deablo, making him a player the Raiders “can comfortably count on.”

Here are some other AFC notes, including one more from that same Raiders piece:

  • Bonsignore identifies Malcolm Koonce as another young player who could see significantly more playing time in his second NFL campaign. The 24-year-old was on the field for only 48 defensive snaps as a rookie, but he managed to record a pair of sacks with that limited opportunity. With Carl Nassib no longer on the roster, the No. 79 pick has been practicing as a backup to defensive end Maxx Crosby, Bonsignore notes. At six-foot-two, 250 pounds, however, he could also see time rotating in for Chandler Jones as a stand-up rusher. In all, Koonce could project as somewhat of a breakout candidate for the team’s defense.
  • On a different note, the Patriots will use training camp to establish the pecking order at QB behind Mac Jones. The team has veteran Brian Hoyer in the No. 2 spot for now, but fourth round rookie Bailey Zappe will be competing with him for the role. ESPN’s Mike Reiss reports that at this point, it “seems like a long shot” that the latter will win the backup job. The team preferring the veteran would come as little surprise; Zappe threw for 62 touchdowns last season at Western Kentucky, but is widely regarded as a raw prospect in need of significant developmental time. As Reiss recalls, though, Hoyer himself has experienced unexpectedly winning the backup role as a rookie before, and this could be a key positional battle to watch when training camp begins later this month.

Raiders Sign Third-Rounders Malcolm Koonce, Divine Deablo To Wrap Draft Class

The Raiders are ready to roll for training camp; all their rookies are now under contract. Las Vegas came to terms on the customary four-year rookie deals for third-round picks Divine Deablo and Malcolm Koonce on Friday.

Las Vegas took Koonce, a defensive end out of Buffalo, at No. 79 before drafting Deablo (Virginia Tech) a pick later. The team is set to open its training camp July 27, joining 28 other squads in that regard. Deablo, Koonce and second-round safety Trevon Moehrig represent the Raiders’ Day 2 draft contingent. Moehrig signed his rookie deal last month.

Primarily a safety at Virginia Tech, Deablo is on track to begin his NFL career as a linebacker. Deablo began his Hokies career as a wide receiver, ranking as a top-25 wideout recruit nationally in 2016, but moved to the defensive side in 2017. Deablo was a key Virginia Tech defender from 2018-20. Last season, he intercepted four passes; one of those picks came against top 2021 pick Trevor Lawrence. Deablo will join an experienced Raiders linebacking corps, being positioned to potentially see extensive time following the 2021 season.

Koonce combined to register 13 sacks over the past two seasons. He tallied 11 tackles for loss in 2019, when he added three forced fumbles. Koonce finished as a first-team All-MAC defender during the conference’s six-game season. In that truncated campaign, Koonce still posted five sacks. He will join a Raiders edge-rushing corps that now houses Yannick Ngakoue, who signed to team with Clelin Ferrell and former fourth-round find Maxx Crosby. Crosby was also a MAC pass-rushing standout.

Going into camp, here is how the Raiders’ 2021 draft class breaks down:

Round 1: No. 17 Alex Leatherwood, OL (Alabama) (signed)
Round 2: No. 43 (from 49ers) Tre’von Moehrig, S (TCU) (signed)
Round 3: No. 79 (from Cardinals) Malcolm Koonce, DE (Buffalo) (signed)
Round 3: No. 80 Divine Deablo, S (Virginia Tech) (signed)
Round 4: No. 143 (from Vikings via Jets) Tyree Gillespie, S (Missouri) (signed)
Round 5: No. 167 (from Seahawks) Nate Hobbs, CB (Illinois) (signed)
Round 7: No. 230 (from Jets via 49ers) Jimmy Morrissey, C (Pittsburgh) (signed)