22 NOVEMBER 2015: Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney (51) waits for the snap of the ball during game action between the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions during a regular season game played at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
Oakland Raiders

Like him or not, Ben Heeney’s injury is tough news for the Raiders

Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

The Oakland Raiders pulled off an impressive victory against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, getting the job done 28-27 thanks to a late touchdown from quarterback Derek Carr. While the win was great, there was some unfortunate news to go along with it. The Raiders lost two players in tight end Lee Smith and interior linebacker Ben Heeney. When specifically talking Heeney, he’s been a player who Raiders fans have mixed emotions on, but his injury is still going to hurt the team.

Via Scott Bair of CSNCalifornia.com:

So, why does the loss of Heeney specifically impact the Raiders? Well, it has a bit to do with depth, but also due to the fact that he’s a fifth-round pick from 2015 who has shown flashes of upside. For starters, Heeney was pressed into additional action as Malcolm Smith deals with a groins train. This means that the Raiders are now incredibly thin at the position, and may need to look to free agency to potentially bolster the position a bit.

Head coach Jack Del Rio sounded off on the injuries to both players, per Bair.

“Both guys are likely to go down (for the season),” Del Rio said. “That’ll be (determined) as they finish the work that is done on these guys, with all the doctors and our experts looking at it.”

“If we determine that the (rehab) time is such that we won’t be able to get them back, then they could in fact go down (for the season). It’s not officially done yet, but it’s heading in that direction.”

Realistically, Heeney is a tough man to figure. His rookie preseason was strong, so much so that Rich Winter of Sports Blog went as far as calling him a fifth-round steal way back when. Granted, this is a linebacker who had 127 tackles during his senior season with the Kansas Jayhawks. As for his NFL career? Well, that hasn’t gone quite as planned, even though he’s seen action.

In 2015, Heeney totaled 38 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a pass defensed in 15 games. So far in 2016, he’s tallied 15 combined tackles. When looking back and evaluating his rookie season, the numbers are actually pretty impressive when you consider that he only played on 26.7 percent of the Raiders defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders.

Heeney’s role on the Raiders also goes further than what he brings to the defense, as he’s also a fairly reliable special teams player also. Last season, Heeney played on 50.2 percent of the team’s special teams snaps. A player’s production on special teams may not be the flashiest part of the game, but it’s hard to argue that losing him both on the defensive side of the ball and special teams doesn’t hurt.

Expanding more on Heeney as a pure tackler, this is a guy who totaled 326 combined tackles, 36 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles over his final three collegiate seasons. His game isn’t fully transitioned to the NFL just yet, but patience is key, and at this point, Raiders fans are going to have to have that with the young linebacker.

Like him or not, Ben Heeney’s injury is tough news for the Raiders

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