Why the Oakland Raiders Should Start Ben Heeney

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Aug 22, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Taylor Heinicke (6) fumbles the ball as Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) hits him in the third quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Effort. Instincts. Athleticism.

Coming out of the University of Kansas, Heeney was highly regarded as one of the most active, energetic linebackers in college football. According to CFBStats.com, Heeney led his Kansas Jayhawks in tackles his sophomore, junior, and senior year. 

Though Heeney was seemingly a tackling machine, he still was overlooked by several scouts due to his inefficient tackling ability, for he led the NCAA in missed tackles with 16 in 2014. 

Heeney was also included in several analysts notes, including NFL.com‘s Lance Zierlein, as an undersized linebacker that lacks athleticism, but early signs point to quite the opposite. At the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, Heeney posted the top overall time among all linebackers in the three cone drill, twenty yard shuttle, and 60 yard shuttle, while he also finished with a top-five forty-yard dash time. Heeney has also expressed solid hip fluidity in coverage during his limited action in the preseason and against Detroit last week.

As for his relative strengths, Heeney is a high-effort player that is always around the ball due to his determination from snap to whistle and his natural instincts. Though Heeney still lacks substantial experience in the NFL, he still has a knack for finding the football at a high level. On top of Heeney’s seven tackles against Detroit, he also finished the preseason tied for lead in tackles with 27. 

Del Rio mentioned Heeney’s ability to get to the football in a press conference earlier this week. 

[Heeney] plays hard,” Del Rio said, via Raiders.com. “It was effort-filled performance. That’s what we know about Ben; he’s going to fly around. He’s going to be on plays. He made a heck of a move to get that sack. For his first extended action, I thought he did pretty well.”

Given Del Rio’s positive reaction to his play, there’s reason to expect him seeing even more time this week against Tennessee. In comparison to the man in front of him, Heeney’s on the field motor and intensity serve as considerable upgrades for Oakland’s defense.