Linebacker or bust

The Oakland Raiders need another playmaker in the front seven, particularly at linebacker, but will they head to the draft to meet their needs with a hawk or try and find a viable option in free agency now that the pickings are thin?

Each year, the team seems to look at the free agent options first with an eye on making a big splash – landing a big name.

But recent history has the team rethinking that strategy.

With the team continuously over the cap, causing the need for creative restructuring and cuts, the Raiders have come to the realization that the NFL Draft may be the way to go.

The team has a solid group of players with several stars that need the right motivation from coaching. A gameplan will do wonders for the offense. The defense is looking for some continuity first and an addition that can compliment some of the talent on that side of the ball.

Kirk Morrison led the team in tackles as a rookie and fellow linebacker Danny Clark placed second on the team but neither made many game-changing plays.

Morrison, entering his second year, believes that will change as he moves forward because of his preparation.

"I feel my best attribute is my instincts," said Morrison. "I do a lot of film preparation. I watch it at home. Sometimes I can just pop a tape in and watch my opponent for the week. I think that when you watch your opponent so many times, you get to a comfort zone. When you're in the game, you've seen that play a hundred times already, and you know how it's going to work. My instincts always take me to the ball."

The need to get more athletic at this position to pair with Morrison is apparent. They need another instinctive player to turn around the defense – a unit that produced just 19 turnovers, tied for third-worst in the league.

But the last linebacker to be taken in the first round, Napoleon Harris, was shipped to Minnesota after being considered a disappointment in Oakland. He made some tackles but rarely did he make the big stop on third down or create turnovers.

Rod Fredrickson is the only other linebacker to be taken in the first round throughout Raiders' history. That is a 45-year run of drafts with just two selections in the first round becoming linebackers. In a touch of irony, Fredrickson was also traded by the club – shipped to Detroit after four years with the Silver and Black for a fourth round draft pick – a net loss.

But – there is a player out there who doesn't have the pitfalls of a Harris because he is a Hawk, A.J. Hawk.

Hawk is an aggressive linebacker that pursues the ball with relentless abandon. His energy alone would be a boon to the defense and his instincts are top notch. His 16.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks show his talent to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.

And why not go after another player with a similar style that Morrison employs?

"I try to rely on instincts," Hawk said. "I feel I can do that well at times. I try to go hard every play and try to go get in on every tackle."

The Raiders need a Hawk for the front seven. Will he be there when the curtain falls on the draft? Much debated. It would be fitting if they finally want a linebacker that will change the way the game is played only to see him selected one pick ahead of them.


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