Raiders Draft Outlook: Linebacker

The current group of Raiders linebackers gives the staff some options, but with that said, the team is looking to move on a player in the draft. There's not much attention being payed to the outside linebacker positions, but despite the presence of stalwart Kirk Morrison, the Raiders want to add more aggressive, proactive play in the middle.

For the first time in a long while, the Raiders seem to have viable pieces at each linebacker position. Trevor Scott began last season playing with his hand on the ground, but quickly found a home at weakside linebacker, supplanting Thomas Howard in the process. Howard, with his great range and lateral speed, was moved to the strongside, filling the Raiders' long-standing void at SAM. Kirk Morrison again led the team in tackles and is slated to return in the middle, but nipping at his heals is the versatile Ricky Brown.

Add to that mix newcomer and pass rush specialist Kamerion Wimbley, and the Raiders have some interesting options in the linebacking corp. Backups David Nixon and Slade Norris fill out the depth chart, and the staff likes their smarts and tenacity. Isaiah Ekejiuba returns, and although he's viewed as primarily a special teams ace, he can be used in a pinch as well.

With all that said, however, all indications point to the Raiders taking at least one linebacker in the upcoming draft, possibly as high as in the third round. While both outside linebacker positions look solid, it's the MIKE spot that's getting the most attention in the offseason.

For the past five seasons, Kirk Morrison has been a stalwart presence in the middle for the defense. He has led the team in tackles every year, and he's done so without much fanfare. However, although the Raiders placed an original pick tender on Morrison, they realize that most of his production isn't of the proactive variety, and as such, are open to him signing with another team. Whether or not that will happen remains uncertain, but the main criticism against Morrison is that most of his tackles come after opposing ball carriers have gained significant yards. That is, instead of meeting ball carriers, Morrison is waiting for them.

Last offseason, the Raiders considered moving Morrison to the strongside and promoting Ricky Brown as their middle linebacker. Although Brown has some trouble sometimes completely wrapping up and taking down ball carriers, he does a better job at attacking and the staff likes his speed and attacking style of play at MIKE.

The Raiders might move on an outside linebacker in the draft, but the middle linebacker spot is the priority. After the Raiders address their needs on the offensive and defensive lines, it's possible they might target an interior linebacker somewhere around the third or fourth round.

Middle Linebacker

This year's draft class isn't that deep in the middle linebacker department. Outside of Alabama's Rolando McClain, there hasn't been a guy who has been regularly discussed in the first round. The Raiders have more pressing needs so McClain shouldn't be an option. If McClain were to fall to the Raiders in the second, it would be hard to pass him up, but again, it's not likely.

Florida's Brandon Spikes has been mentioned from time to time as going in the first round as well, but of late, most pundits have him going in the early to mid second round—right in the Raiders range. It really depends on what the Raiders' options are at that point, and what options they foresee having in the third and fourth rounds. Most have offensive tackle Bruce Campbell going to the Raiders in the first round. If that's the case, if the Raiders don't like the options at defensive line in the second and feel they can wait until the third, then Spikes would be a great pickup.

Spikes possesses excellent size for the middle linebacker position. At 6-3, 249-lbs., Spikes moves relatively well for a man of his size. Although he doesn't possess great straight line speed, he has great "football speed", does a good job getting to the ball carrier, and is underrated in pass coverage.

Daryl Washington out of TCU is a name to watch out for as he might have the highest upside of the top three inside linebackers. What Washington lacks in size (6-2, 226-lbs.), he makes up for with great speed, versatility, and character. In fact, Washington is ranked higher than Spikes in Scout's rankings, and he's seen his stock climb after the Combine and workouts. While he has some work to do in the weight room, Washington's range and lateral ability make him an intriguing prospect.

Penn State's Sean Lee might have been a first rounder last year had it not been for an ACL injury that cost him his entire senior year. Lee returned to form last season, but again missed some time due to a sprained knee. Questions of his durability will hurt Lee and have him pegged as a late third round pick. With that said, other than his injury history, Lee would be a great value pick if he became available to the Raiders in the fourth round. As a high third rounder, Lee might be somewhat of a risk, but he's smart, plays with a great motor, and he recently ran a 4.6/40 at the Penn State Pro day so his speed is appealing.

Another name to look out for is Donald Butler. The former Washington Husky has seen his stock rise after an outstanding senior season and a great Combine performance. At 6-1 and 245-lbs., Butler has good bulk for the position, and the thing most scouts talk about with Butler is his strength—Butler put up 35 reps in the Combine bench press. Butler excels against the run and also ran in the low 4.6's in the 40 at the Combine and at Washington's Pro Day. While Butler doesn't have the appeal of a McClain or Spikes, scouts have taken notice to his performances and numbers.

Jamar Chaney out of Mississippi State is a guy that could be available to the Raiders in the fourth round, should they elect to address other needs in the first, second, and third. Chaney is a physical defender who has the strength to play inside, but enough lateral speed to play outside. The Raiders contacted Chaney and he has worked out in front of Al Davis and the staff.

Pat Angerer is projected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round. Although he doesn't project as highly as others, Angerer comes in ready to contribute. He's undersized at only 6-1 and 232-lbs., but put up good strength numbers at the combine and even ran in the low to mid 4.6/40 range at the Combine and at his school's Pro Day.

Outside Linebacker

So far there hasn't been much discussion of the Raiders' interest in an outside linebacker. They did bring in Florida State's Dekoda Watson for a workout, but Watson is projected in the fourth round, so unless the Raiders feel like they've addressed their key needs, the team will probably look to fill other spots before outside linebacker. Watson is a freak athlete who happens to play football, and he's had a successful and productive career in Tallahassee.

The Raiders also worked out TCU's Jerry Hughes. Hughes is a tweener as he is best suited as a pass rushing linebacker/defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Hughes would likely be available to the Raiders in the second round, but with Kamerion Wimbley on the roster, the Raiders would prefer a true defensive end, rather than another hybrid defender.

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