The Chicago Bears have already lost two of their top four linebackers in free agency – Nick Roach to the Raiders and Geno Hayes to the Jaguars – and Brian Urlacher's return is still 50/50. With just Lance Briggs under contract, the Bears will be in the market for at least one linebacker this year's draft.
Let's break down the middle linebackers in this class, players with the potential to be a long-term replacement for Urlacher.
Alec Ogletree, Georgia (6-2, 242)
Ogletree was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs, at safety as a freshman and at linebacker the last two seasons. He led the team with 111 tackles, 11.5 going for a loss, his junior year. He's the biggest hitter in the draft and is a disruptive force against the run. In coverage, he improved dramatically his final year at Georgia. His biggest weakness comes off the field, where he's been involved in multiple incidents. Ogletree was suspended the first four games of 2012 for failing a drug test and was cited for a DUI this past January. On the field though, he's the most impressive inside linebacker in this class.
Projected: 1st Round
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (6-1, 241)
Te'o was an All-American in high school and a four-year starter at Notre Dame. He dropped 15 pounds before his senior season, which added to his quickness, resulting in 113 tackles, 13 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. For his efforts, he won a host of national awards, ranging from the Nagurski Award, the Lombardi Trophy, the Bednarik Award, the Maxwell Trophy and being named the Walter Camp National Player of the Year. He was second in Heisman Trophy voting. Te'o is experienced, smart and powerful. He's a physical inside linebacker who hauled in seven interceptions last season. Based on his all-around skill set, he'll have a fruitful, decade-long career in the NFL.
Projected: 1st Round
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Kevin Minter, LSU (6-0, 246)
Minter was a two-year starter for the Tigers. He earned first-team All-SEC honors last season after compiling 130 tackles, 15 for loss, and four sacks. He's a thick, powerful inside linebacker who is at his best working north and south. He takes great angles on ball carriers and can blow up blockers. As a blitzer, he has the quickness and power to collapse the pocket. Minter isn't strong in coverage but as a two-down middle or strong-side linebacker, he'd be a great fit.
Projected: 2nd Round
Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245)
Bostic was a two-year starter for a very talented Gators defense. As a junior, he led the team with 94 tackles, 10 for loss, and three sacks. He's a pure middle linebacker who can attack the hole and lay the lumber. He's aggressive and works hard to fight off blocks. When he comes clean, he's very disruptive and can singlehandedly blow up run plays. In coverage, Bostic has great awareness and does a great job sniffing out screens. He's not overly athletic and he's a bit stiff but he did grade well at the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.61 40-yard dash, third best at the position. He's limited but Bostic has the size, strength and experience to be an NFL starter from Day 1.
Projected: 3rd Round
Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238)
Alonso dealt with two alcohol-related incidents early in his career at Oregon. He was suspended his entire freshman year for a DUI and, before the start of his sophomore season, he was arrested for breaking into an apartment and passing out due to intoxication. Once he put those problems behind him, he developed into a solid linebacker. In 2012, he recorded 81 tackles, 14 for loss, with four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Alonso is not the most athletic player, and he'll need to put on weight, but he's explosive and has good speed. As a nickel linebacker, he could be very productive at the next level.
Projected: 3rd-4th Round
Michael Mauti, Penn State (6-2, 243)
Mauti started the last two seasons at Penn State yet missed parts of both campaigns with injuries to his knees. Yet when on the field, Mauti was impressive. He's a smart, instinctual player who shows poise against the run and in coverage. His technique and fundamentals are arguably the most sound of any linebacker in this class. He doesn't have great speed but he makes up for it with his anticipation and angles. In coverage, he's very good in space and has a strong understanding of zone coverage. Mauti can play both middle and strong-side linebacker in the pros. He's had three knee injuries the past five seasons, tearing the ACL in both knees, so that is a huge concern going forward and the reason he'll drop into the later rounds of the draft.
Projected: 5th Round
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.