Throughout the offseason, Just Blog Baby will be evaluating the performance of players on the 2013 Oakland Raiders roster. This evaluation on Nick Roach comes from Just Blog Baby Podcast cohost Rory Anderson.
One of the bright spots and new fan favorites on the Raiders is linebacker Nick Roach. This last offseason the Raiders were extremely limited in their ability to spend on free agents as has been well documented, but their largest signing in terms of dollars spent was Roach. He played “will” linebacker for the Bears and was a rotational “mike” linebacker at times as well, and for his efforts he received a 4 year, $13 million dollar contract, but the question is, did the Raiders get their money’s worth this season? In order to determine this we will have to review his work in the run game, his blitzing, and his coverage skills. These three factors are what will determine his overall grade along with some intangibles I have noticed through the year.
Vs the Run Game
This is by far the biggest issue for Roach and it was apparent through much of the year that he lacked the instincts and big body needed for a real “mike” linebacker in a 43 system even a hybrid system like this one. To his credit, he did play behind a couple of defensive tackles that were at times very inconsistent and this makes it difficult for a “mike” to do his job and flow sideline to sideline. In a 43 the “mike” needs to be able to take on lineman up the middle and then have the speed to operate sideline to sideline when needed. With that in mind, we still cannot ignore the fact the he simply never looked at home in the middle and he did get lost in the wash against the run. In many games it was obvious that offensive coordinators would pinpoint his weaknesses and run right at him getting a guard on him quickly and wipe him out of the play. He simply lacked the size and strength to blow through blockers and make a play.
Roach’s profootballfocus.com grade is -11.6 and specifically in the run game his grade is an abysmal -18.6. As mentioned before, there are several reasons why this grade is so low, but most importantly it is because he is not a real “mike “linebacker. As primarily a “sam” linebacker for the Bears in 2012 his grade was -2.5 with a -1.7 grade versus the run. Even the “sam” is not the position for Roach and when we look at his blitzing and coverage skill that will become apparent. To put a final touch on how he struggled versus the run, Roach also had 18 missed tackles.
What Roach does very well is operate in space. For a 43 defense or even a hybrid 43 defense, the “will” linebacker is the guy that is designed to get into open space and make plays. To give some examples, think of Lance Briggs and how he is free to flow and make big tackles. They also play a huge role in coverage because many times they either drop into zones or cover backs out of the backfield. In training camp every coach and beat writer was remarking how fast he was and how well he covered tight ends and backs. Going back to PFF, Roach received a 3.5 for his coverage abilities and although it is 12th for inside linebackers, he unlike several of those above him was placed in a variety of man coverage against very talented receiving targets, whereas many inside linebackers are asked to drop into short hook zones or move toward the flat.
In many respects this was an area where Roach excelled. PFF gave roach a 2.9 blitz grade which is good enough to be 6th best for inside linebackers and only one of those above him is a 43 “mike” linebacker. The rest are 34 inside linebackers who blitz much more frequently than “mike” linebackers. With six sacks not only did Roach tie for the Raiders sack lead, but he also tied for second with three players for sacks by inside linebackers and again only one of those tied or above him was a 43 “mike” linebacker. The lone 43 “mike” above Roach is Bobby Wagner from the Seahawks. To add another impressive stat, Roach led the NFL with hurries from an inside linebacker with 22 and number two only had 15 hurries. It is obvious that the Raiders knew Roach was a liability versus the run, but they also knew how best to use them and he paid dividends for them.
Intangibles in Play Calling
From Day One Roach owned the playbook and the huddle. They gave him the green dot on his helmet and he became a team captain. More importantly, he was recognized by his teammates and was voted by the players to be the Raiders most valuable player this season. He was given the burden to lead a defense with nine new offensive starters and he had them playing very well at times. There were some terrible games and some extraordinarily disastrous plays against screens as we saw against the Chiefs, but he did his job without complaining, without throwing anyone under the bus, and was a silent leader that the Raiders could use in the future.
Despite his struggles versus the run, I am giving Roach an B+ for this season because what he provided as a stable leader was outstanding. Most importantly, he will be a key building block for the Raiders moving forward and it is very plausible that next year he will be in a position that he can succeed in. Kevin Burnett although he played well could be cut next season and save the Raiders three million dollars on the cap if the team sees fit. If the Raiders added a true “mike” linebacker either in the draft or in free agency, they would then move Roach to his proper “will” linebacker position and could be exceptional.