weather icon Clear

4 linebackers the Raiders could target in free agency

Updated February 19, 2020 - 9:58 pm

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series previewing the Raiders’ prospects in the NFL free-agent signing period, which begins March 18.

The Raiders took steps in the right direction in 2019 getting their defense in order. The drafting of defensive linemen Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell and cornerback Trayvon Mullen produced first-year starters.

While safety Johnathan Abram, one of the Raiders’ three first-round picks, missed all but one game of his rookie season with a torn rotator cuff injury, the organization views him as a big-time piece.

Unlike an offense that seems a player or two away from potentially being elite, the defense still needs help across the board. Linebacker, in particular, is a position that requires an infusion of playmakers.

Opposing offenses exploited the Raiders’ linebackers last year. Their inability to provide adequate pass coverage was a season-long issue.

With Tahir Whitehead the lone starter under contract, expect this group to look significantly different next season.

The Raiders are well positioned to add multiple starters at linebacker in the NFL draft with two first-round picks and three more in the third. That search will kick into high gear next week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

First, they need to examine a deep pool of free-agent options, especially with nearly $52 million in projected cap space. Here are some free agent options to watch:

1. Cory Littleton, Rams. Age: 26

The Raiders need to add surefire difference-makers. That means investing a big chunk of their cap space to one player — and Littleton is that type of player.

Should he hit the open market, the Raiders will be among a handful of teams vying for his services. The cost will be significant, but he is worth the investment.

Undrafted out of Washington in 2015, Littleton has risen from a special teams star to one of the NFL best all-around linebackers. He has 259 tackles, 7.5 sacks, five interceptions and four fumble recoveries since becoming a starter in 2018.

A sideline-to-sideline defender who can also rush the passer, Littleton registered 134 tackles last year — sixth best in the NFL for linebackers — while fanning on five tackles. His 3.6 missed tackle percentage was the best in the NFL among linebackers with 60 or more tackles.

What makes Littleton compelling is his elite pass coverage skills. He was fifth best among linebackers with nine passes defended in 2019 — he has 23 over the last two seasons – and according to various grading sites, he measures among the best at his position in pass coverage.

Littleton is a priority for the Rams, but they have multiple pending free agents and roughly $15 million in projected cap space. His rapidly increasing price tag will land him between $13 million and $14 million in annual salary and $30 million to $35 million in guarantees based on the recent contracts given to Jaylon Smith of the Cowboys and Shaq Thompson of the Panthers.

2. Joe Schobert, Browns. Age: 26

Schobert, a fifth-year player from Wisconsin, isn’t as sure a tackler as Littleton, as evidenced by his 15 missed tackles in 2019. But his 133 total tackles and the 394 tackles he has amassed over his first four NFL seasons indicates an ability to dissect the run and get to the ball carrier. His tackling problems are a minor issue, and he’s still young enough to improve.

Schobert has been an excellent pass defender throughout his career and finished last season with four interceptions and nine passes defended.

Reports out of Cleveland indicate the Browns are prepared to let Schobert test the market. While he isn’t likely to command the same money as Littleton, his age, production level and upside will be enticing to many teams. The Raiders are expected to be one of them.

3. De’Vondre Campbell, Falcons. Age: 26

A fourth-round pick out of Minnesota in 2016, Campbell has steadily improved over his first four seasons and has racked up 90 or more tackles in each of his past three seasons. That includes the career-high 129 tackles he posted in 2019, which included six tackles for losses, two sacks, nine quarterback pressures and three forced fumbles. This is a big, physical and sound tackler, as evidenced by his impressive 5.1 missed tackle percentage.

In addition to leading the Falcons in tackles last year, he also provided solid pass coverage, often lined up against opposing tight ends, while coming up with two interceptions and five pass breakups.

Campbell is a classic draft-and-develop success story that teams typically covet. The Falcons will do their best to retain him, but given the projected $7 million or so they have to spend under the cap after accounting for their draft allotment, Campbell could fall through the cracks. The Raiders would be wise to keep track, even as a complement to another free agent linebacker pick up.

4. Blake Martinez, Packers. Age: 26

The Raiders are well aware of Martinez, who played at Stanford, and the 26-year-old tackling machine would be a nice fit. Martinez has 441 tackles during the past three seasons with 10 sacks and 25 tackles for losses. His 155 total tackles last year were second in the NFL.

Martinez missed 18 tackles last year, which dings his overall run-defense grade, but like Schobert, he’s still young enough to improve in that area, and it’s important to note he played a chunk of the season with a broken hand.

He also made impact tackles as he was ranked third among off-ball linebackers with 37 run stops by Pro Football Focus, a stat that measures 1st-and-10 run tackles that limit the runner to three yards or fewer.

Martinez isn’t as athletic as Littleton or Schobert, but he’s solid in pass coverage and would be an upgrade on a Raiders team in need of dependable linebackers.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

Like and follow Vegas Nation
Raiders Videos
Raiders extend season ticket dues - Video
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Las Vegas Raiders are extending final season ticket dues until the summer.
Raiders fullback Alec Ingold ready to play in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Raiders fullback Alec Ingold sits down with the RJ and talks about the excitement surrounding the team's move to Las Vegas during off-season training in Wisconsin. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ikem Okeke Trying to get Noticed By NFL Scouts With His Pro Day Canceled Due to Coronavirus - Video
Ikem Okeke is a Bishop Gorman High alum who played his college football at Hawaii. After his pro day was canceled due to the coronavirus, he's attempting to catch the attention of NFL scouts by creating his own workout using the same company that tests at the combine. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Justin Herbert: Forcing Himself to be Uncomfortable to Become an NFL Quarterback
In order to become a prolific quarterback in the NFL, Oregon's Justin Herbert says he is going to have to make himself uncomfortable and put himself in challenging situations in order to improve at his position. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Worker at Allegiant Stadium tests positive for COVID-19
Construction of Allegiant Stadium is unlikely to affected by the coronavirus outbreak that is having an impact on just about every industry across the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Agree to Terms with WR Nelson Agholor - VIDEO
On Saturday the Raiders agreed to terms with wide receiver Nelson Agholor,  offensive lineman Eric Kush, tight end Nick O’Leary and running back Rod Smith, who appeared in the team’s final three games last season as a special teams player. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Agree to Terms with CB Eli Apple - VIDEO
The Raiders have come to terms with cornerback Eli Apple, who last played with the New Orleans Saints. Apple was drafted 10th overall in 2016 by the New York Giants. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders sign LB Littleton, DE Nassib, more
On the second day of the legal tampering period in the NFL, the Raiders picked up linebacker Cory Littleton, defensive end Carl Nassib, tight end Jason Witten and more. Here's a recap of the action from Tuesday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders strengthen defense in free agency - Video
Some of the Raiders biggest struggles in the past seasons have come from the defense. Now, in free agency, the front office is making big moves to improve that side of the ball. Vegas Nation crew Cassie Soto and Myles Simmons bring you the latest in Raiders free agency.
Raiders make big free agency moves on offense - Video
The Raiders continue to make big moves on offense, including signing long-time Cowboy Jason Witten. Vegas Nation crew Cassie Soto and Myles Simmons bring you the latest in Raiders free agency.
Raiders and Cory Littleton agree to terms - VIDEO
Linebacker Cory Littleton, a 2018 Pro Bowler who played in Super Bowl 53 with the Los Angeles Rams, has agreed to terms with the Las Vegas Raiders. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Marcus Mariota is a Raider - Video
The Raiders have signed quarterback Marcus Mariota as a backup to Derek Carr.
A Flyover of Allegiant Stadium At Night - VIDEO
Here's a look at the new home of the Raiders, Allegiant Stadium, at night from this flyover near the Las Vegas Strip.
Raiders Agree to Terms with Mariota, LB Kwiatkoski
A recap of the moves made as the NFL stays open for business transactions with unrestricted free agents being signed during the legal tampering period. The Raiders signed linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and former Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.  (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Nation: NFL Draft Canceled in Las Vegas, Legal Tampering Period Open - VIDEO
On Monday, the NFL announced the draft and its planned festivities would no longer take place in Las Vegas though the draft itself will still take place Apr. 23-25 as scheduled. The Raiders grabbed former Bears LB Nick Kwiatkoski in the first day of the legal tampering period. The Vegas Nation team breaks down the latest news in this update.(Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Love, Hurts Among QBs Raiders Could Target in NFL Draft - VIDEO
The Raiders may look to select a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft and have 5 picks in the top 100. Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts and Utah State's Jordan Love could be among those the team has on their watchlist. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Stadium roof installation begins - Video
The first roof panels were installed at Allegiant Stadium earlier this week, marking the start of the final process of the structure being fully enclosed. The ETFE panel installation is expected to last through May.
Jon Gruden, Mark Davis defend Derek Carr - Video
With a week left until the NFL Free Agency period opens up, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and team owner Mark Davis were both asked about their quarterback Derek Carr. Rumors have been flying around that the team could be interested in replacing Carr with six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Vegas Nation crew Cassie Soto and Myles Simmons discuss the quarterback situation.
Jon Gruden responds to questions about Tom Brady coming to Raiders - VIDEO
Raiders coach Jon Gruden answers John Katsilometes question about Tom Brady replacing Derek Carr as the Raiders quarterback at the Power of Love gala in Las Vegas on March 7, 2020.
Raiders stadium gets its new name installed
Aerial view of newly installed signage for Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders stadium gets its new name installed - VIDEO
Aerial view of newly installed signage for Allegiant Stadium, future home of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Allegiant Stadium sign installation (timelapse) - VIDEO
Watch the name of the new Raiders stadium in Las Vegas go up in less that a minute. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders owner Mark Davis on Tom Brady - VIDEO
A clip from the next episode of PodKats! with Raiders owner Mark Davis. Tune into the full episode which airs Monday March 16th.
Keep Memory Alive red carpet at Power of Love gala
Keep Memory Alive honored Neil Diamond at 24th annual Power of Love Gala and many stars were in attendance for the signature Las Vegas event.
Allegiant Stadium nears signage finish, adds sun logo and 't' - Video
Allegiant Stadium's exterior signage is one step closer to completion, with the Allegiant sun logo and the letter 't' being added on Saturday. Allegiant Stadium Insiders Cassie Soto and Mick Akers discuss the latest addition to the future home of the Raiders.
First signage going up at Allegiant Stadium - VIDEO
As Allegiant Stadium’s exterior has come into form, the dark tinted glass has drawn various nicknames. Now, however, the stadium will begin to reflect its official name. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Stadium Installation of stadium lights
Allegiant Stadium's roof nears completion with the installation of the stadium's lights
NFL combine spotlights key WRs for Raiders - Video
With the NFL combine over, teams can now get to the drawing board and decide which players they will add to their rosters at this year's NFL Draft. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and social media manager for the Las Vegas Review-Journal Adrian Aye-Darko discuss key wide receivers the Raiders could have eyes on.
Gruden discusses hiring Rod Marinelli as the Raiders defensive line coach
During a media session with reporters at the 2020 NFL Combine, Raiders' head coach Jon Gruden discussed what he thinks new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli brings to the team and how the players will benefit from him being there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gruden says Carr is "a heck of a player" - VIDEO
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden discusses what he's seen out of wide receivers at the NFL Combine, his thoughts on quarterback Derek Carr's performance in 2019 and what his plans are for him in 2020.
Raiders sell and lease back headquarters - VIDEO
RJ reporter Eli Segall talks about the numbers behind the sale and lease back of the Raiders headquarters in Henderson and why businesses make these types of land grabs. (Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Oklahoma LB Murray says meeting with the Raiders went well - VIDEO
Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray said he met with the Las Vegas Raiders staff during the 2020 NFL scouting combine and that the meetings went well. LSU's Patrick Queen and Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun may also be prospects that the team could evaluate. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Faith Lutheran Product enjoying the NFL Combine Experience - VIDEO
Native Las Vegan John Molchon spoke to the Review-Journal about his experience at the NFL Combine, how his Faith Lutheran coaches prepared him to play on the offensive line at Boise State and what it's been like to see the city grow as it prepares to welcome the Las Vegas Raiders. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NFL Combine, Day 2: Taylor's Inspiration, Vegas' Molchon on Raiders Coming to Town - VIDEO
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor spoke about what players have inspired him in his consecutive 2000-yard rushing seasons. Boise State offensive lineman and Las Vegas native John Molchon talks about the Raiders coming to his hometown and how the city is growing with professional sports teams. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
WR Ceedee Lamb promises to give Raiders all he has - VIDEO
Oklahoma wide receiver Ceedee Lamb confirmed that he has spoken with the Las Vegas Raiders and said he'd give them all he has if he is drafted by them. Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who could be drafted by the Raiders at the no. 12 spot, also spoke to media at the 2020 NFL scouting combine on Tuesday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders GM Mike Mayock on What Positions Need Improvement in 2020 - Video
At the 2020 NFL scouting combine, Raiders GM Mike Mayock discussed everything from how Antonio Brown left the team's wide receiver core without a key target, the upgrades the team needs on offense and defense, what he needs to do better as a general manager and what he saw out of the 2019 rookie class. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Stadium roof takes next step towards completion - Video
Safety netting is being laid across the stainless-steel cable net of Allegiant Stadium in preparation for the ETFE roof installation. Vegas Nation host Cassie Soto and Stadium Insider Rick Velotta discuss the safety netting and the overall progress of the roof.
Allegiant Stadium roof continues to be key feature - Video
On Tuesday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was given an updated tour of Allegiant Stadium. Seen on the tour, on the northeastern corner of the roof, was a tiny section of what eventually will be a 7-acre translucent plastic polymer roof.
Bird's eye view of Raiders facilities - Video
The Las Vegas Review-Journal's Mick Akers took a helicopter tour over Allegiant Stadium and the Raiders Henderson headquarters.
The Las Vegas Raiders give back - VIDEO
The Raiders are not even in Las Vegas yet but are already making a big impact on the community, giving out hundreds of hygiene kits to local vets and pledging $500,000 to eliminate school lunch debt in Nevada. (Le'Andre Fox and Renee Summerour/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dana White fuels rumors of Tom Brady to Las Vegas Raiders - VIDEO
UFC president Dana White believes there is a real possibility he will be watching his good friend Tom Brady taking snaps for the Las Vegas Raiders from White’s suite at Allegiant Stadium next season. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders PSLs sold out
Raiders personal seat licenses for Allegiant Stadium have sold out. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders push final season ticket dues to July 3

The final two payments for 2020 season tickets at Allegiant Stadium, originally due March 15 and April 15, were first extended to April 15 and May 15 as the initial effects of the novel coronavirus hit Las Vegas.