The Raiders’ 37-12 victory against the Denver Broncos on November 15 started with middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski stuffing a run play near the line of scrimmage. It ended with Kwiatkoski leaping and pulling down an interception with one hand.
In between, most of the big plays in arguably the Raiders’ best defensive game since Jon Gruden returned as coach three seasons ago also had Kwiatkoski involved in some capacity.
“His leadership, his playmaking, his intensity—those are things we feed off of,” Gruden has said.
Las Vegas’ defense still rates in the bottom third of the NFL and has a long way to go, but after years of struggles, the unit might finally be headed in the right direction. That’s largely because the Raiders appear to have uncovered and crafted a captain out of the 27-year-old Kwiatkoski.
In an era when franchises are hesitant to dole out big contracts to defenders who aren’t either edge rushers or lockdown coverage players, the Raiders went against the grain this past offseason, signing two high-priced linebackers in free agency. Las Vegas committed more than $56 million over the next three seasons to Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton.
After four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams peaking with a 2018 Pro Bowl berth, Littleton was considered the sure thing. Kwiatkoski was more of a gamble after playing sparsely—though impressively—in limited reps during four seasons with the Chicago Bears.
It has turned out exactly the opposite. Littleton, who missed the Broncos game after being added to the COVID-19 list, has yet to fully adjust to his new team, while Kwiatkoski has thrived.
https://lasvegassun.com/news/2020/nov/19/The Big Kwiatkoski: Raiders' middle linebacker coming into his own as a playmaker and a leader - Las Vegas Sun Newspaper