This offseason, the Miami Dolphins made two trades with the Las Vegas Raiders, using a 2021 fourth-round pick in both deals. The first trade sent linebacker Raekwon McMillan and a fifth-round pick to the Raiders for the fourth-round selection. Miami, a few days later, then sent that pick back to the Raiders for wide receiver Lynn Bowden, Jr., and a sixth-round pick. Now, as Miami prepares to face the Raiders in a Saturday night game, they are also preparing to face their former starting linebacker.
Miami selected McMillan in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Ohio State product immediately plugged into Miami’s defense as a starting linebacker, working to learn all three linebacker roles to ensure versatility and prove his worth, though looking like he would be the starting middle linebacker. On the opening kickoff of the team’s first preseason game, however, McMillan ran down the field on kick coverage duties and tore his ACL, ending his rookie season before it really even began.
Returning in 2018, McMillan reclaimed his spot as the team’s starting middle linebacker, teamed up with Kiko Alonso and McMillan’s Ohio State teammate, rookie Jerome Baker. He started all 16 games that year, recording 105 tackles, 1 pass defense, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. McMillan demonstrated his value as a run-stopping linebacker, but he had vulnerabilities in pass coverage and blitz assignments. Working next to Baker, however, the two seemed to complement each other perfectly.
In 2019, McMillan appeared in 13 games, with 12 starts, before a hamstring injury in Week 15 landed him on injured reserve. He recorded 72 tackles with one pass defense for the season.
Coming into 2020, the Dolphins made several moves at linebacker, including adding Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Shaq Lawson, and Kamu Grugier-Hill in free agency. McMillan continued to battle for a starting role in the lineup, but the versatility of the additions, while McMillan again demonstrated a specialty role as a run stopped, ultimately led to him losing his starting position and being traded to the Raiders near the end of the summer.
Since joining the Raiders, McMillan has primarily been a special teams player, though he has been more involved in the defense the last couple of weeks including a season-high 28 snaps last week. He has started twice over 14 appearanes, recording 14 tackles and a forced fumble on defense this season.
“I was glad to get out there and showcase my talents,” McMillan said Wednesday according to Raiders Wire’s Levi Damien. “I kind of a more lead by example type of guy, so I’ve been quiet this whole time I’ve been out here in Las Vegas, trying to get to know the team, trying to get guys to know me. But going out there on [Thursday night], getting to show my real emotions out there on the field with my team was pretty cool.”
McMillan could see additional playing time again this week after the Raiders placed middle linebacker Nick Kwaitkoski on the COVID-19 list.
How will the added playing time against his former team impact the linebacker? “It’s a lot of familiar faces, but it’s just another game for me,” McMillan explained, according to Damien. “Of course I’m going to be excited to see those guys and play against them and compete with them. Some of my longtime friends, Jerome Baker, I was with him at Ohio State and the other guys, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain on the defensive end. It’s going to be good to see them, but I’m ready to compete, trying to get a win.”
“Oh yeah, when it comes to ‘Kwon’, that’s my big brother right there,” Baker said when asked about keeping in touch with McMillan. “I talk to him pretty much every week. We always just talk and just catch up on things. I’m definitely excited to see him. I’m definitely excited to see him play and do his thing. Definitely excited.”
McMillan is a solid player who could have an impact on the game, especially if Miami is trying to find the same success with the rushing attack as they had last week against the New England Patriots. Rushing against McMillan would play directly into the linebacker’s strength. Will Miami regret trading the linebacker? Will McMillan continue to be a footnote on the Raiders’ box score, or is he primed for a breakout against the Dolphins?
The Dolphins and Raiders will kickoff at 8:15pm ET Saturday night.