Cardinals Draft Primer: Linebackers

The Cardinals spent much of the offseason rebuilding the depth chart at outside linebacker, but the inside linebackers are a work in progress. Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes are penciled into the starting roles, but Dansby is still unsigned and depth remains slim. Cardinals expert Amberly Richardson examines the draft prospects who could solidify Bill Davis' crew.

The Arizona Cardinals have made a lot of moves at linebacker this offseason but need more help to mold a top-tier unit. There is a surplus of linebackers in the draft ready to take Arizona by storm.

Keith Rivers is a top candidate for the Cardinals at pick No. 16. He took the leadership role he carried at USC to heart and has already played in an NFL style defense.

Rivers is staying busy between now and the draft. Off the field, graduation is his main focus. On the field, game-changing speed tops his list.

"(I am also working on) being seen and not heard and just working hard and learning my plays," Rivers said.

Rivers knows his destiny is out of his hands at this point.

"The draft is kind of like playing cards. Everybody's got their hands folded and they've got their poker faces on, so who knows," Rivers said.

LB Jerod Mayo
Miller Safrit/

If Rivers is gone when the Cards go on the clock, Jerod Mayo out of Tennessee could end up in Red & White. Mayo's athleticism has teams talking.

"I feel like I play the run really well. I'm a downhill type of linebacker," Mayo said. "In pass coverage, in zones, I play the matchup zones pretty well. I can improve in certain aspects of my game, spot drops and things like that. But at the end of the day, I feel like I am a pretty solid linebacker."

If the Cardinals pass on the draft's two first-round prospects at inside linebacker, it's not out of the question for the team to target an outside 'backer. Such a move would allow Clancy Pendergast to keep Chike Okeafor and/or Bert Berry at defensive end.

It's possible the Cardinals could pick up Derrick Harvey (Florida) or Phillip Merling (Clemson), both of whom are athletic enough to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Harvey (6'4", 271 pounds) is a natural pass-rusher. Scouts originally critiqued his strength and size, but Harvey heeded the call and packed on more than 10 pounds in the offseason.

The Cardinals would love to add a sizable prospect like Merling (6'5", 277 pounds) to their front seven. He may be ill-suited to drop into coverage, so he would have to embrace a hybrid role to fit in with the Cardinals.

The magnitude of the leap from college to the NFL doesn't go unnoticed by Merling.

"(My first year will be a success) as long as I benefit by getting out there on the football field and win with the team, while I'm playing hard just like I did in college with no drop-off of spirit and aggressiveness," Merling said.

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications. Her analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

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