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Ranking the AFC West: Inside Linebacker

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Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (55) at organized team activities
Oakland Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain (55) at organized team activities

Much to the dismay of many Raider fans, we now move on to the linebacker. We start with the all-important inside linebacker position. For teams running the 4-3 this means, the middle linebacker. It also means one shot to get it right. The middle linebacker is supposed to be the brain of the defense. If he isn't, it can cause all kinds of problems.

For those running the 3-4, there are two inside linebackers who are charged with plugging the gaps in the line and covering the occasional running back turned receiver out of the backfield.

Here are the inside linebacker rankings by team in the AFC West:

1. San Diego Chargers

LILB Takeo Spikes, RILB Donald Butler

Kind of the lesser of the evils among the AFC West inside linebackers. There aren't any really solid inside units or middle linebackers. Butler looked great as a rookie and if Spikes has anything left in the tank, the two of them could play well together this season.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

LILB Jovan Belcher, RILB Derrick Johnson

Both Belcher and Johnson are solid inside linebackers. They aren't stellar but they can hold their own.

3. Denver Broncos

MLB Joe Mays

The Broncos had a resurgent Broncos defense with Mays at inside linebacker last season. He will look to continue that success under new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

4. Oakland Raiders

MLB Rolando McClain

Until he proves otherwise, McClain is on the path to being a bust. There are a lot of big, scary ifs involved with him. If he can stay out of jail, if he doesn't get suspended, if he can pick up his intensity, if his on-field issues last season really was because he was injured, if he can become the kind of leader this defense needs from its middle linebacker. If he can't get it together, the Raiders will have to move on from this former top ten draft pick.