The outside linebacker position was clearly the best the Oakland Raiders defense had to offer in 2012. Rookie Miles Burris started the first game of the season and showed tremendous growth throughout the year. Philip Wheeler was signed last offseason and played as well as anyone on the defense all year. The Raiders would like to make both players building blocks for the future, but Wheeler is an unrestricted free agent.
During his one season in Oakland, Wheeler led the team in tackles with 109 and forced fumbles with two. He also added three sacks, six pass deflections, and one fumble recovery. The five year veteran made a serious impact for the silver and black last season, earning notice from the Raiders and other NFL teams. Oakland will have to put a substantial offer together to lure Wheeler back. Many factors will determine Wheeler's fate in Oakland. The Raiders are still trying to fight out of a bad cap situation and cannot afford to give out anymore huge deals. The team has several big decisions to make on other veterans that could free cap space. Will another team come in with a large offer that the Raiders cannot match? All things considered, Wheeler will be a priority and the Raiders should be able to find a way to make a solid offer.
One of the more pleasant surprises this season for the defense came from Burris. The fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft started every game his rookie season. Burris finished second on the team in tackles with 96 and added 1.5 sacks. He also made his first career interception and deflected three passes. Burris has the versatility to play multiple linebacker positions in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. He displayed his range and sure tackling as a rookie and should improve as he continues to gain experience. As far as the Raiders' future is concerned, Burris should have a prominent spot and be a player to build around.
Kaelin Burnett signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent and made an impact during training camp. He started the season on the practice squad, but was promoted in late November. He saw action on special teams in six games and made two tackles. With more time to develop, Burnett possesses the attributes to be a player in the league. With the lack of depth Oakland has a linebacker, Burnett should get the opportunity to improve and earn more playing time through special teams.
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