Draft outlook: Linebacker

This is one story in a series of position outlooks on the 2005 NFL draft as it pertains to the Oakland Raiders. Today, we look at linebacker:

What the Raiders have: The Oakland Raiders attempt to transform from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 went up in smoke in large part because they simply are not strong enough collectively at this position. Another problem was trying to convert Tyler Brayton, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and DeLawrence from defensive end to outside linebacker. All three had less than smashing success, to put it benevolently, in their move.

The linebacking corps got even weaker by trading Napoleon Harris to the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Randy Moss and the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. Harris, however, became expendable because he regressed after a solid 2002 rookie season. Plus, for all of his baggage, Moss is still an impact player.

Inside linebacker Danny Clark, however, cannot be lumped into the problem area. Clark was an excellent find after signing as a free agent from Jacksonville. He was the team's leading tackler and brought versatility as a special teams performer.

Travian Smith and Sam Williams are the next best at this position after Clark. Both have played well at times but have had problems staying healthy. Even when at full strength, however, neither has played consistently well enough to where the team should feel totally comfortable with them as starters.

Backup Tim Johnson is a restricted free agent the team has yet to resign. Johnson, however, would be worth the investment. He's a special teams performer who can fill in for a few downs at linebacker. Plus, he would not cost a lot money.

What the Raiders might do: Regardless of whether or not the Raiders scrap the 3-4, they need for this position is so dire it should come with a "Help Wanted" ad – especially outside linebacker. Whether or not Oakland junks the 3-4 remains to be seen but the feeling here is they will use it less.

Texas' Derrick Johnson is the most highly touted linebacker in the draft followed by Maryland's Shawne Merriman but since the Raiders traded the No. 7 pick to acquire Moss he won't be on the board when the Raiders draft. Tennessee's Kevin Burnett and Virginia's Darryl Blackstock, however, might be available at the 38th pick.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com

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