Cody Williams/FanSided via NFL Spin Zone Fansided
May 13, 2017 at 7:48p ET
The Oakland Raiders have undoubtedly improved their defense after the NFL draft, but they’re still lacking at linebacker. Would Gerald Hodges fill the void?
For as electric as Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders offense was a year ago, their defense was equally as frustrating. While most label them simply as bad, inconsistent and imbalanced is a far more accurate assessment. However, general manager Reggie McKenzie has made a strong effort this offseason to reshape the unit.
Though the Raiders signed only mid-level guys like Jelani Jenkins in free agency, Oakland went strong on defense in the 2017 NFL Draft. They added stud cornerback (albeit with glaring character red flags) in Gareon Conley in the first round, followed by hyper-athletic safety/defensive back Obi Melifonwu in the second and the a big defensive tackle with upside in Eddie Vanderdoes in Round 3.
Especially of Vanderdoes can get back to form after a letdown year in 2016, those additions will prove huge for the Raiders in the 2017 season. However, the aforementioned Jenkins helps to highlight the one area of the defense still lacking in a big way. Bluntly, the Raiders linebackers are problematic in their current form.
While Oakland obviously has Bruce Irvin in the SAM linebacker role to rush the passer, they struggled at the two other spots for much of last year. They were a lackluster run defense largely because of their play, but also were even worse against the pass as a whole.
If you need evidence of how poorly the Raiders linebackers played a year ago, the most obvious is that Malcolm Smith was allowed to walk without much of a fight. Then there’s also Perry Riley Jr, who was ostensibly Oakland’s best player at the position a year ago, who remains unsigned as the Raiders are seemingly playing hardball with him.
Whether or not the Raiders bring back Riley or not, though, this is clearly a unit that would be better served with the likes of Jenkins and Corey James playing as depth rather than starters. Oakland drafted Marquel Lee in the later rounds of the draft to help with that, but his tape shows a player that will likely need development before he’s an effective contributor. Thus, their best option may be to look elsewhere.
Luckily for the Silver and Black, there’s a highly intriguing option still sitting on the open market for whatever reason. That player is former Vikings and 49ers linebacker Gerald Hodges.
Hodges originally came into the league with Minnesota as a fourth-round pick in 2013, playing two full seasons with the Vikes. In the middle of the 2015 season, though, he was traded to San Francisco. For the 49ers, he struggled immediately to finish out that year after having been given limited work in Minnesota. However, Hodges really turned it up and showed his capabilities in 2016, despite the struggles of the Niners as a whole.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hodges graded out as the 21st best linebacker in the league in the 2016 season. He was above-average against both the run and pass, much in the same vein that Riley was for the Raiders a season ago. The key difference, however, is that Riley’s season was largely an outlier given his longer track record while Hodges has played well in every season that he’s been given ample opportunities. For a linebacker who’s also just 26 years old, that’s key.
Truthfully, the fact that Hodges remains unsigned to this point is baffling. He’s not going to be a superstar by any stretch, but he’s a guy who can play on every down and really boost a linebacker corps in need. That most definitely describes Oakland at the position.
No one can deny the fact that the Raiders are ready to contend for a Super Bowl in 2017. However, if that is indeed their ultimate goal, they have to shore up any weakness on their roster that they feasibly can. With Hodges still not on an NFL roster, that appears to be a way that they could go about adding strength in an area where it’s needed. He’s a younger and likely more trustworthy player than Riley and should be where Oakland looks if they choose to add anymore talent to their defense this offseason .