Raiders linebacker Sio Moore makes a tackle against the Steelers in 2013. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Critics can easily point to the things Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie has done wrong in his tenure in Oakland.
They can question his No. 1 draft pick in 2013 (cornerback D.J. Hayden) and his acquisition of quarterback Matt Flynn, for instance.
But one player McKenzie drafted in 2013, linebacker Sio Moore, has become one of the team’s building blocks. Based on his production as a rookie and the fact he could be surrounded by a much better cast in 2014, Moore could be due for a big second year.
Moore – who goes by the name MrOakTown55 on Twitter – was taken by McKenzie in the third round of the draft out of Connecticut and earned a spot in the starting lineup as the strongside outside linebacker. As a rookie he was the team’s eighth-leading tackler, with 55, and had 4½ sacks.
Though the team’s top two picks, Hayden and tackle Menelik Watson, made few contributions because of injuries, Moore made an impact from Day 1, and head coach Dennis Allen pointed to Moore, tight end Mychal Rivera and defensive tackle Stacy McGee as players who can be part of the foundation of the Raiders’ rebuilding process.
“Rookies generally don’t make a huge impact in their first year,” Allen told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group late in the 2013 season. “But there’s a lot of things we see in these guys that we can develop where they can be the backbone of our team moving forward.”
When the Raiders drafted Moore in the third round – the 66th selection of the 2013 draft – Moore raised some eyebrows my declaring that Oakland struck gold when it picked him.
“The Oakland Raiders got the best linebacker in the draft,” he told reporters. “I don’t care who went before.”
It’s possible the Raiders could draft an outside linebacker with the No. 5 overall pick in next month’s selection process – Khalil Mack of Buffalo has been linked to Oakland in some mock drafts in that spot – which would make the linebacking crew even better in 2014. But the starting trio of Moore and Kevin Burnett on the outside and Nick Roach in the middle will be back this coming season, and should be playing behind a much better defensive line, aided by the free-agent signings of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith.
So far, Moore has done everything right. He was selected to the Pro Football Writers’ All-Rookie Team, impressed coaches and teammates with his work ethic and athleticism and has made an impact with community appearances.
This week, in fact, he visited a middle school in Fairfield and told students about the value of staying in school to reach their true potential.
“If you’re going to dream, you need to dream big. If you’re going to wish, wish big,” he told students. “Holding yourself back, you’re not allowing yourself to do so.”
Now, heading into his second season, Moore has a chance to fulfill the statement he made about the Raiders picking the best linebacker in the draft last season.
“You could say Moore more than impressed and solidified his standing as a building block for the franchise going forward,” wrote Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com, in evaluating Moore’s rookie season. “You could also make the case that Moore is the best draft pick in two drafts by general manager Reggie McKenzie thus far. Moore’s high motor served him well last season and should continue to do so in the future, so long as he does not get overly aggressive in chasing plays or picking up penalties.
“It will be interesting to see how his skill set translates if the Raiders show more 3-4 looks on defense, outside of their base 4-3 alignment.”
More Moore in 2014 and beyond could be a very good thing for the Raiders.