Well our 2011 NFL Draft linebacker prospect search got a little derailed, but never fear—we still have time to get the poll results into Mr. Davis before the draft. Now the question is will he care. If the Raiders have talked to any linebackers other than the late-round sleepers they have done son under the radar. And that means for all intensive purposes it seems like the majority of us feel a boost at linebacker is more vital than the Raiders themselves feel.
It's true, the Raiders are returning the five main players that received playing time at LB in 2010. McClain, Wimbley and Goethel project to be the starters in 2011. They even have Groves and Brown for insurance depth. But it would be nice to add someone on the outside that will be solid in the run game and in coverage to push for a starting role and give the unit more flexibility. With that in mind, let's do a quick recap of who we've discussed.
Herzlich is a big and slow linebacker. He has tremendous instincts and leadership skills. He was once projected as a first-round selection, but he has yet to return to form after an intense battle with cancer. If he reclaims that form he could be a real mid-round steal. He would be a real plus in the run game and not as much in coverage.
Matthews is a linebacker that has excelled on instincts. He is a little overmatched physically, and may be better suited for an inside linebacker position. He has displayed an ability to come up big in big moments. However, he spent a lot of his time blitzing in college. He has some serious question marks in coverage.
Foster was an amazingly productive college player. He is a sure tackler, but not a big hitter. He plays with tremendous tenacity and does a good job of shedding blocks. He may be better fit for for the strongside than the weakside as he is not the fastest linebacker, but he does a decent job covering ground. He is as pro ready as any linebacker and is solid in coverage and the run.
Bruce Carter is an incredibly athletic linebacker. He was not able to participate in the Combine after blowing out his ACL in last November. However, he was recently given a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews. He is a boom or bust player that can make some big plays, but his gambling nature leaves him vulnerable to giving up big plays.
Irving had an amazing comeback after a potential life threatening car crash. He is similar to Carter in that he is a boom or bust player. He is capable of laying the wood on ball carries, however, he is an inconsistent tackler. He isn't the best at shedding blocks, but he is rock solid in the run game. He has some serious questions in coverage.
A possible late-round gem with eye-catching athleticism
Homan is the shortest linebacker on the list, but he is stout. Still his lack of size makes him vulnerable against power running games. He has decent speed, and should be solid in pursuit. He is decent in coverage, but at least one scout said he would struggle in man-to-man situations. He may also be suited for the inside.
Jones was a four year starter and two time All-American at Michigan State. He played all linebacker positions in college, and the consensus is he may be a better fit for the inside in the NFL. He is not the biggest playmaker. He seems to make a bigger impact in the clean up type of tackles.
Another possible late-round selection with eye-catching athleticism.
There you have it. The kicker with all of this is there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty about where these guys will go. Which is going to make it hard to put the poll together. I am going to lean towards the higher side of their projections as I think it adds a little more realism to the poll.
As for my thoughts, ideally I think Mason Foster would be a great fit for the Raiders. He is solid against the run and in coverage, and he is a sure tackler. However, I think he is going to be gone by the time they draft in the third, and I don't like him at No. 48. If he was available when the Raiders draft in the third I think that would be my pick.
I am not sold that Casey Matthews, Ross Homan and Greg Jones can play the outside in the NFL. So, they are off my list.
Bruce Carter has way too many question marks to go at No. 48, which—given his recent clean bill of health—is likely the only chance the Raiders would have to take him.
I think either of the late-round guys would be excellent choices in the seventh, but I am going to keep them off the poll as they do not figure to greatly effect any team in 2011.
That leaves us with Mark Herzlich. Herzlich is not without his question marks, and he looked horrible against NFL talent in the Senior Bowl. His lack of speed may mean he can never play on the weakside in the NFL. However his instincts allow him to cover more ground than his speed indicates, and his strength makes him a force in the run game. I am saying the Raiders will have a chance to draft him in the fourth, and if he regains all of his pre-cancer athleticism that is going to be a huge steal.