Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski bided his time as a spot-starter in Chicago, using brief splashes of play time to show the type of menace he can be if granted a bigger role.
After starting eight games last season, Kwiatkoski hit the jackpot this offseason, signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Las Vegas Raiders to finally be a full-time starter.
"It's an opportunity that I feel like I've earned," Kwiatkoski said, via The Athletic. "I'm excited to see what I can do as the full-time guy. I've been through a lot of different changes, position changes and ups and downs in Chicago. So, to come in on Day 1 and be able to have a full season under my belt and show what I can do, I'm excited about it.
"I can't wait."
A fourth-round pick in 2016 out of West Virginia, Kwiatkoski played mostly a bit role his first three seasons. But last year, with injuries striking Chicago's LB corps, the 27-year-old got to show off his ability.
In 2019, Kwiatkoski made eight starts, compiling 76 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. The linebacker was all over the field when he entered as a starter, showing keen timing on blitzes, a willingness to smash his facemask in the hole against the run and good coverage skills against the pass.
Owning the ability to be a sideline-to-sideline tackler, cover in space, and rush the passer, Kwiatkoski is set to start in the middle of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's base system, where he will be asked to lead the crew.
"That's the role that I played in Chicago," Kwiatkoski said. "I wore the green dot for the majority of the time that I was playing. I'm very comfortable with that and I'm looking forward to it. ... Being in the middle of the defense, it's what I'm used to.
"I'm excited to get out there and be a leader."
After four years in a backup role, Kwiatkoski earned the right to be a starter. Heading to a Raiders team desperate for difference-makers on defense, he finally has his chance to shine full-time.