NAPA – Coming out of the University of Connecticut, Raiders linebacker Sio Moore wasn’t ready to yank anyone’s chain.
Moore was adamant to scouts and anyone who seemed interested that he was the best linebacker in the draft class. And he’s holding the 31 teams who didn’t draft him accountable.
Moore was ranked among the top 10 outside linebackers during his 2013 rookie season according to Pro Football Focus, well above any of the other rookie outside linebackers.
Now, Moore said, he’s got a personal vendetta to fulfill:
“That’s always been something personal to me, because how I look at it is, I got a personal vendetta against anyone who was 65 and under (in the draft class). And I have friends that are up there, too. But it’s still a personal vendetta against them. I feel like I’m the best, I know it, I go out there and I try to approach it that way and that’s how I’m going to continue to approach it until there’s a hall of fame date.”
Moore has a case, though he’s still got his work cut out for him.
The Raiders drafted Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick of the 2014 draft, and Moore isn’t a lone youngster in the Raiders starting linebacking corps. Perhaps that can become a positive thing.
According to Pro Football Focus rankings, 49ers inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were the first and second best middle linebackers in a 3-4 defense last season. Which adds to a thought that Mack and Moore could still become the league’s best outside linebacker tandem.
And if the two continue getting better and peak at the same time?
That’s plainly incomprehensible.
Moore racked up four and a half sacks last season, while making another 38 tackles in 11 starts. He’s been one of the loosening agents in the Raiders’ locker room, a jokester known for random pranks and laughs.
The chip he holds tightly on his shoulder molds well with some of the other defensive players on Oakland’s roster who are pissed off from being looked over.
Some of them because of age. Some just don’t feel like they’ve gotten the respect they should be getting. Either way, it’s a volatile mixture that the Raiders hope can propel them back into football relevance.
After being voted rookie of the week for sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice en route to Oakland’s third win of the season, Moore finished his first year being voted all-rookie first team.
Moore said he has a way to do one better:
“Super Bowl. […] I’ve never really cared about the accolades, as far as my stats and all, just because I’ve had years where I’ve had 100 or so tackles, but I’ve also had years where I’ve had 80 tackles but had an entirely better year than where I’ve had 120 or so tackles.”
He isn’t playing around.
It doesn’t take long to figure out why Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie pulled the trigger on the young linebacker out of a school that held little relevance to FBS football.
“It’s about the quality of what you put on the field. It’s about leadership in what you provide to the players. And it’s about yourself and what you can do to make yourself better. I don’t think football is hard — at all. I look at football as life. And as good as I want to be at life, is as good as I want to be at football.”
The voice of Moore rang out like a shotgun on New Year’s when he talked about getting to, and winning, a super bowl. His stone-faced expression said he’d do anything to make it happen.
He went on to discuss meeting fellow teammate Justin Tuck for the first time, challenging Tuck to a push-up contest and bonding with him in the locker room.
To Moore, the seed has been planted that the playoffs can become a reality, even after two 4-12 seasons. The team, according to Moore, knows it’s a good one. The players are confident in the pieces, confident in the abilities of the brothers in silver and black.
That’s exactly who Moore’s teammates are to him: brothers.
According to Moore:
“That’s the only thing that we’re going to aim at. If you don’t aim high, what are you aiming at? And I think that everyone wants that to the point that everybody is putting in that much more time. Sacrificing that much more. Dedicating themselves that much more. When you see that from the man next to you, behind you, wherever he is, that makes you go that much harder.”
While it might be fair to be a skeptic for some of the reasons stated above, Moore offers this:
Moore’s confidence should excite Raiders fans, as his case seems valid. Pundits around the NFL have hailed the Raiders off-season a complete success, even after some embarrassing blunders.
Adding to it all, the biggest reason given by pundits that the Raiders might struggle to make the playoffs is their schedule. That’s it. Not a bad roster, not because of questions around the quarterback position — just the schedule.
That’s a pretty good place to be for Oakland.