Why Derrick Johnson Is a Better Signing Than NaVorro Bowman for the Oakland Raiders

Derrick Johnson
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 15: Linebacker Derrick Johnson #56 of the Kansas City Chiefs gets set on defense against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half on October 15, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

For most of the off-season, fans have been screaming for the Oakland Raiders to re-sign inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. There has been a dearth of talent at the linebacker position for a while, and Bowman’s surprise signing during the season last year provided a spark and a ton of much-needed leadership at the position.

It looks like Bowman’s time in the Silver and Black will be short-lived though, as Oakland announced their signing of former Kansas City Chief Derrick Johnson. The announcement was met with confusion and even anger from some. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to accept that Johnson is the man that the Raiders wanted all along.

Derrick Johnson is a Better Fit for the Oakland Raiders Over NaVorro Bowman 


Let’s just get cost out of the way early. Obviously, Johnson is 35 and in the twilight of his career. The Raiders locked him up on a one-year, $3 million deal. This is the same amount that Oakland inked Bowman to last season, but he didn’t get there until six games in. Bowman is probably looking for at least double that in order to cash in one last time.

Oakland is pretty cash-strapped, so every penny counts. Prior to Johnson’s signing, the Raiders had just over $6 million in cap space. Not exactly much to play with. They probably couldn’t even pay Bowman if they wanted to.

Coverage Linebacker vs. Run Stopper

The two linebackers are very different from each other. Bowman is better at stopping the run, but Johnson is better in coverage.

In fact, Johnson led all linebackers in coverage last season allowing only .41 yards per coverage snap. Bowman, on the other hand, allowed .91 yards per coverage snap, more than double that of Johnson’s.

The Raiders have desperately needed a cover linebacker for years. Their entire secondary gets a lot of flak for getting burned consistently, but their biggest weakness in coverage has been against tight ends. Linebackers are usually responsible for covering tight ends.

To see just how bad things are there, we look to the fantasy football realm. In 2017, the Raiders gave up the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Fantasy players who didn’t have a consistent, every week tight end would usually just pick up whoever was on the waiver wire.

It became laughable. Obviously, the new coaching staff wanted to fix that. Johnson will be the man to do just that.

Scheme Fit

Under new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, the Raiders are looking to move from primarily a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. This will flip Oakland to playing with mostly four linebackers on the field to only three. They’ll add one more defensive lineman to form a stout front four.

With more men on the front to plug up the run and rush the quarterback, linebackers will be counted on to cover the middle of the field.

One of the main reasons Bowman was let go from the San Francisco 49ers was this same shift. Prior to 2017, Bowman spent his entire career in a 4-3 base. He excelled in plugging up the run and getting pressure on quarterbacks on blitzes. As seen above, he wasn’t always the best in coverage.

New Faces in Town

Some might question the trade-off between the importance of a coverage linebacker vs. run-stopping linebacker. Bowman definitely is better in the trenches than Johnson is. Still, the Raiders have already offset Bowman’s loss in that regard.

In the draft, they completely revamped their defensive line. They added huge bodies in the center in Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall. Arden Key could turn into a great pass-rushing option on the edge. They already had Eddie Vanderdoes, who was a third-round pick in last year’s draft, and Justin Ellis. Don’t forget about Khalil Mack, and Bruce Irvin, who is also expected to see a lot of time at defensive end.

The coaching staff came into the season with a vision to revamp the Raiders underperforming defense. Their vision is coming into focus with Johnson’s signing. Fans of the Silver and Black need to embrace this new look and admit that Bowman is not going to fit into that vision.

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Ryan is a lifelong Raider fan living in San Diego. His NFL fanaticism began when he somehow got a hold of an LA Raiders sweater. He started wearing when the sleeves were way too long and kept wearing until they barely passed his elbows. He is also a Final Fantasy Fanatic and basically dedicates all of his free time to playing Final Fantasy Brave Exvius. In addition to sports writing, he also loves reading and writing fiction. His favorite author is Anne Rice. Ryan is also very involved in education, and works as a Tutor at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista as his day job. Need Fantasy Football advice? Ryan won both his leagues last year! He is in the process of getting a Podcast started with his buddy called World Eater FF. Find him on Twitter @RyanWorldEater.


  1. I understand your reasons for DJ over Bowman but the biggest over-sight (there is more than one) in your article is his age. Father-time is undefeated. DJ was let go by the team that knows him best and knew it was well past time to let him go. He’s DONE. Father-time has also made sure he’s lost a step or three by now. Seeking DJ and Cushing are clear indictments on the ILBs currently on the #Raiders ‘ roster. DJ is a bandaid, where we need stitches. The only way I could semi-agree with you on this is if he’s being brought in as a mentor AND a only as a rotational player on obvious passing situations. Plus if he can’t stop the run, the opposing offenses wont need to pass. KC and LA have the running schemes & talent and KC has an elite TE to wreck DJ and the rest of our ILBs too. Idk what’s up in Donkey-land.
    WE HAVE YET TO FIX THE PROBLEM and now even less cap room to sign #NavarroBowman, the best ILB on the open market.


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