Oakland Raiders Midseason Awards
Nov 8, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) scrambles under pressure from Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 38-35. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Outstanding Defensive Player: Malcolm Smith, LB
The Raiders defense has had a rough first eight weeks. Playing without starting free safety Nate Allen with a cornerback group full of young, unproven, and frankly overwhelmed players, the Raiders have been getting gashed in the passing game, allowing nearly 315 passing yards per game and allowing 15 touchdown passes. Multiple opposing players have set career and even franchise bests in receiving against the Raiders porous pass defense.
So, while Charles Woodson has demonstrated unparalleled courage and leadership and managed to snag a league-leading five interceptions on the year, his role in this secondary bumped him from this award.
Instead the award for outstanding defensive player of the first half of 2015 goes to linebacker Malcolm Smith. Smith, who has been alongside Raiders DC Ken Norton Jr. for nearly his entire collegiate and professional career, was acquired somewhat quietly by the Raiders in free agency this past offseason. The former Super Bowl MVP started only five games with the Seattle defensive unit in 2014, and in fact had only logged 18 starts (including playoffs) in his entire four year career prior to joining the Raiders.
Smith supplanted fan favorite Sio Moore as the Raiders starting Will linebacker in the offseason and stayed there as Moore was unceremoniously traded to the Colts. Many Raider fans who thought Sio was bound to be one of the cornerstones of the Raiders defense of the future were disappointed, but that disappointment has been short lived. Malcolm Smith has put together a stellar first half of the season for the Raiders defense, and with Khalil Mack now playing mostly as a defensive end, is the Raiders’ best linebacker.
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Coming into 2015, Malcolm Smith was most often used in passing situations by Seattle and was thought of as a third down linebacker due to his relatively small size and good speed and coverage skills. He had managed to log 83 tackles in four years in Seattle, including a career-high 34 in 2013. He’d also managed two quarterback sacks in his career. In 2013, he managed two picks in the regular season and another two very key picks in the playoffs, including his pick-six in the Super Bowl that helped him win the MVP vote.
But Smith has been a standout three-down linebacker for the Raiders, helping the team become one of the best units in the league against the rush. He’s logged fifty tackles in just eight games to lead the team. When Ken Norton has utilized linebacker blitzes in order to free up his big-ticket edge rushers, it has been Smith who he’s called upon more often than not, and Smith has answered the bell by recording three quarterback sacks so far on the year.
Smith also managed a key pick against Philip Rivers early in that game that got the momentum heading in the Raiders’ direction. He’s been nothing short of exceptional for the Raiders defense, everything Sio Moore was and then some. At only 26, and with a great connection to the Raiders coaching staff, look for Smith to continue to excel and remain a mainstay of this defense for many years to come.
Next: Outstanding Offensive Player