On the Radar: Linebackers

In Warpaint Illustrated's final installment of "On the Radar", we take a look at some of the pass rushing linebackers that could be asked to start immediately. The Chiefs have to address the age of veteran Mike Vrabel and their franchise player, Tamba Hali, should the team fail to sign him to a long term contract.

With middle linebackers Jovan Belcher and Derrick Johnson on the tentative list to start in 2011 and back-ups Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams likely playing for other teams next season, the Chiefs may not be set at inside linebacker. But even with that revelation, the team must address the outside guys.

Vrabel's contributions to the Chiefs has been immeasurable but will enter the 2011 NFL season grasping at the last few lingering threads of his 13 year career. And the fact that he's been heavily involved in the Union War with the Owners plus his theft issue at a casino, the Chiefs appear ready to give his starting job to third year man, Andy Studebaker. But that doesn't mean they won't draft an outside linebacker at some point on Friday or Saturday.

Tamba Hali on the other hand finished the 2010 NFL season with an AFC leading 14.5 total sacks and would seemingly be a lock to fill the position for years to come. But with his contract expiring, the Chiefs slapped the franchise tag on Hali during the offseason and appear to be hesitant to offer him the top tier linebacker dollars that he and his agent are looking for.

Although Hali certainly has the stats to back up his asking price, Hali has been hampered by injuries throughout his relatively short NFL career. When considering a chronic "foot injury" and some badly beaten shoulders you have to wonder how much longer Hali's mental toughness can overcome the harsh physical realities of playing professional football.

Sitting with the 21st overall pick, the Chiefs will have a variety of options to address their pass rush needs. The first tier of linebackers is a talented group consisting of Von Miller (Texas A&M), Robert Quinn (North Carolina), Aldon Smith (Missouri), and Justin Houston (Georgia).

Until Thursday night there is no way to say for certain which of these players will be available to the Chiefs at 21 but there is a very good chance that, short of a trading up, the Chiefs will not get a shot at any of the group. If either is available to the Chiefs, Pioli would have to pull the trigger.

At this point the only legitimate option that would be available is former UCLA Bruin, Akeem Ayers.

Although a bit undersized to play on the outside, Ayers has the versatility that Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel craves. Ayers would instantly take pressure off Hali when playing in the traditional 3-4 and his elite coverage skill would allow Crennel to throw some interesting looks at opposing offenses.

Drafting players with varied skill sets seems to be a recurring pattern since Pioli came to town. Despite their apparent depth in the middle of the linebacking core, having too many options is never a bad problem to have.

Ayers is the type of player that could instantly give credibility to Kansas City's defense and would be considered a pick of value at 21.

Arizona Wildcat Brooks Reed is climbing up some draft boards.
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If none of the top-5 strikes their fancy, the Chiefs would be well suited to trade down. Short of the top-5 any player taken at this point would be considered a reach. Finding a trade partner is always a complicated process but if the Chiefs could position themselves in the back end of the 1st round or high in the 2nd, they could still likely make the same pick.

In the tail end of the first round, the former Arizona Wildcat Brooks Reed would be well worth the value. It is debatable whether Reed has the size and athleticism to be a star linebacker in the NFL but the kid's motor and special team's contributions will make him an instant and immediate contributor.

For my money, the best value with the 55th overall pick would be Fresno State linebacker Chris Carter. Although Carter is another undersized linebacker, he is an elite pass rusher that has enough grooming in the 3-4 defense to contribute on day one.

In later rounds, the Chiefs could take a chance on linebackers like Ugo Chinasa (Oklahoma State) or Bruce Miller (Central Florida) but if Kansas City is looking for instant returns they will not find that player past the second round.

In one way, shape, or form, the Chiefs will have to address the outside linebacker position during the draft. Whether that is in the early rounds to replace Vrabel or in later rounds to prepare for the inevitable break down of Hali, only the Chiefs really know for sure. If they are not aggressive early, they could be stuck reaching for a pass rusher too early.

Is Justin Houston still a viable option for the Chiefs at #21?

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