Linebacker Cory Littleton was one of the most disappointing players for the Las Vegas Raiders last season after the former Pro Bowler signed a three-year, $36-million contract with the Silver and Black upon leaving the Los Angeles Rams.
However, the Raiders expect the 6-3, 228-pound Littleton to be a key member of their linebacking corps this season alongside Nick Kwiatkoski and Nicholas Morrow under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Pro Football Focus said recently that Littleton returning to his old form is a key for the Raiders defense.
“Across the 2018 and 2019 seasons, only Lavonte David had a higher PFF coverage grade among linebackers than Cory Littleton with the Rams (90.8),” PFF wrote. “And that impressive performance earned Littleton a move to the Raiders, where he was expected to provide a similar impact in the passing game. Twelve months later, Littleton is reflecting on a season in which he earned PFF grades in the 40s in every facet of PFF tracks.
“ … He was thoroughly outplayed by Nick Kwiatkoski and Nicholas Morrow in a disappointing 2020 debut with the team. Littleton ranked in the 99th percentile of all off-ball linebackers in coverage grade during his final two seasons with the Rams, and the former undrafted free agent getting back to that form would go a long way toward the Raiders turning things around defensively.”
Littleton was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in 2016 and was a huge surprise, especially in 2018, when he made 125 tackles, four sacks, 13 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and three interceptions including one that he returned for a touchdown.
In addition to being named second-team All-Pro and playing in the Pro Bowl, he recorded 29 tackles in three post-season games, including a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, in which he intercepted a pass by Tom Brady.
Littleton followed that up in 2019 with 134 tackles, including six for losses, five QB hits, 3½ sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and four that he recovered.
Last season with the Raiders, Littleton’s numbers were 82 tackles, including four for losses, but he had zero quarterback hits, sacks, fumbles forced or recovered, and interceptions, in addition to missing two games when he tested positive for Covid-19.
“It came out miserably,” Littleton admitted. “I’ve always said that I wanted to keep myself and keep my play as a top-five linebacker. I didn’t come anywhere close to it and the two previous seasons I had. I missed 10 times as many tackles as I did the previous year, which is uncharacteristic and something that can’t happen to a good linebacker.
“ … I don’t know if I can actually pinpoint an exact date and time, but I can say as the season progressed, I felt more and more comfortable through the year. I felt like a chicken with its head cut off (at the beginning).”
It certainly didn’t help that coming to a new team, Littleton didn’t have much of a chance to get settled into then-defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s defense because there were no OTAs or minicamps, and a less-than-normal training camp because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, Littleton did get better as the season went along and Bradley is glad to have him.
“I’ve been impressed with his speed,” Bradley said during minicamp. “He’s a very skilled linebacker. One of the things is his physical nature, that’s the things we’re looking at right now and challenging him on. He has it in him.
“What I think’s great about Cory is the matchups he allows us to have. He’s really a skilled cover guy. I think the other thing we see with him is he’s really a good edge setter. I think he has the ability to maybe to be more of an outside linebacker for us, too.”
Littleton finally seems to be approaching the player he was before coming to Las Vegas and he remembers what it was like in 2018.
He believes the Raiders have in them to do what those Rams did.
“I believe we have all the potential that we really need to be able to win a championship, finding the right cohesiveness to get us to be able to play all on the same page and actually get stuff done,” Littleton said. “Once that happens, we should be able to do it.”
In addition to his talent, it seems Littleton is regaining a winning attitude.
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