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Will the next game-changing Raider defender be a linebacker?

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Ahoy Raider Nation! With free agency set to begin in just a matter of days, the speculation is all over the board, and it's tough to nail down just what the Raiders will do with who, where, how and why, and even if they will... in free agency. Levi has done a brilliant job looking at myriad possibilities that have been met with mixed reactions.

We'll probably all be surprised a little by a few things, some pleasantly and others not, but I don't think I'm alone in believing the team's linebacker corps needs help to get them back to being a dominant defensive machine, similar to those greats in the past with guys like Ted Hendricks, Phil Villapiano and Matt Millen.

While we may disagree greatly on the reasons why our defense struggled last season here and throughout Raider Nation, one can't dismiss the fact that they started off at a major disadvantage beginning last season with the holes at linebacker, and one can argue they did little to show they truly aim to field a dominant and capable unit.

Hit the jump to look at prospective 2012 linebacker personnel, and we'll toss around some ideas about who could help this team and how...

We can't have a Raider linebacker conversation without mentioning Rolando McClain. The seventh overall pick remains having a lot to prove to both the world and the NFL, but especially the Raider Nation. I still have high hopes for this kid based on the study I came to believe he was under coach Saban in college and that the failure to live up to expectations is based on factors that were alleviated immediately with the hires of Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver But I have come to temper my own belief that he can be the next great Raider Middle linebacker. I need to see more. For now, I'm not beyond thinking McKenzie and Allen's primary aim this draft could not only be a backer, but a middle linebacker.

Allen emphasized he'd need to see where the the team is with their roster before going to the next step. There's still not a clear enough picture but locking up Curry is a step in the right direction. With the right supporting staff at the second level of the defense, and getting healthy up front, Curry could be one of the stars to emerge first. A healthy Travis Goethel makes multiple positions interesting, but if he regains form from before his injury, we might be able to expect him to quickly push for time on the weak side. This would also allow Curry to compete for the strong side. At this point, I'm not expecting Kamerion Wimbley back, and I'm banking on the fact McKenzie will infuse enough necessary talent to push Wimbley off any potential depth charts for real linebacker spots, unless it's with him rushing and helping out in four linebacker installments on the rare chance he's signed for something closer to what he's worth.

I haven't at all ruled out the possibilities that Allen will look for a star like Von Miller who ignited the Denver defense when it looked they were much more in need of personnel than at linebacker.

The Raiders otherwise have some guys like Darryl Blackstock and Carl Ihenacho, who, because they have yet to change a game for the Raiders, I'll save for another post. With Quentin Groves, Trevor Scott, and Blackstock all free agents who have played lb for the Raiders with less than stellar results, we're left with considering who might be out there and which direction McKenzie and Allen will go.

Will the team go for a big name in free agency? Will they look to draft someone early with hopes he'll compete for a starting job and lift the performance of the whole group?

Unless the Raiders' talent evaluators see something in some of the pool we don't, the Raiders would be looking to compete for contracts for the talents of either a Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton. I don't have any idea if McKenzie will get into a battle in free agency at this point and lean towards him not doing so but instead looking in the draft to upgrade the position.

We'll take a look at prospective draftees as free agency happens and the picture becomes clearer where the Raiders still need help and depth, and the potential future Raiders among them.

Will McKenzie acquire a linebacker to be the guy to take the Raiders to the next level? Who do you think it will be, Nation? A CB, another safety? Is there a specific name you've had your eye on you've pictured in Silver and Black?

Be sure to check out Levi's excellent breakdown of free agents here: LINEBACKERS with links to breakdowns on several other positions.