Draft outlook: Linebackers

This is one story in a series looking ahead to the 2004 NFL Draft as it pertains to the Oakland Raiders needs. Today, here's a look at linebacker:

What the Raiders have: Perhaps no other position has undergone as much change in the offseason as this one. Gone are Bill Romanowski (released), Eric Barton (free agency, New York Jets) and special teams standout Eric Johnson (free agency, Atlanta). Losing Barton, however, was the biggest blow.

Romanowski was likely to retire, even though he has not officially done so yet, because of the effects of several concussions in his 16-year career. While Barton's play might have slipped from 2002, it did not slide to the level of many of his teammates.

The Raiders are likely to more 3-4 alignments under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, which is where Travian Smith could shine if he comes back healthy. Smith, a special teams standout, stood out in that role in 2002 but is coming off a knee injury that cut his season short. Third-year man Napoleon Harris is the closest to a sure thing among the returners. Harris went from middle to strong-side linebacker late in the season and might stay there.

Tim Johnson was also pressed into duty with all the injuries but is clearly better as a special teams performer. The Raiders added Danny Clark and Dwayne Rudd via free agency during the offseason.

What the Raiders might do: Clark and Rudd seem like decent additions but losing Barton via free agency is something that must be addressed.

On the outside, Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman, Georgia Tech's Keyaron Fox and Nebraska's DeMorrio Williams would likely be available late on Day One or early on Day Two. If Harris stays on the outside, then the Raiders would need help at the inside position. In which case, Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas, Notre Dame's Courtney Watson and Oregon State's Richard Seigler become possibilities.


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