We are approaching the 2-week mark from the NFL Draft. The league’s offseason Super Bowl. And in some ways it’s bigger than the Super Bowl because in this game, everyone gets to play and in most also feel like they won, at least in the short term.
Unless you count Khalil Mack as a linebacker (he’s more of an edge rusher), the Raiders’ new regime hasn’t taken a linebacker in the first two rounds in the Reggie McKenzie era. The highest they have taken a linebacker was Sio Moore in the the third round in 2013.
That should probably change this year.
Time and time again the Raiders have suffered for not placing more of a priority on the linebacker position high in the draft. Specifically inside linebacker. They sign castoffs, make low round picks at the position, and simply move outside linebackers inside.
With defense as top priority now and linebacker as the top need among them, these are the linebackers in this draft I see as the best fits for what the Raiders need and the round they should select them if they’re available.
Haason Reddick, Temple — Round 1
It’s appearing more and more that hopes Reddick could be there at pick 24 would be more like pipe dreams. The more I see from Reddick the more I think he would be just what the Raiders are looking for. The 6-1, 237-pounder’s 4.52 40-yard dash was the fastest among linebackers and defensive ends at the combine.
Reddick was a pass rusher at Temple, but many project him as an inside linebacker at the NFL level. While with the Packers, Reggie McKenzie learned to value outside linebackers that could transition inside. Reddick is an ideal candidate for that. And his 22.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and 4 passes defended show he’s just the type of well-rounded, versatile linebacker the Raiders covet.
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt — Round 1-2
Cunningham is a first round talent, though some wonder if that is where he will end up being selected in the draft. He would be a great pick at 24 and, should the Raiders go with another position in the first and he somehow still on the board at 56, a phenomenal pick.
An instinctive and rangy defender who can stop the run like few others, finishing with the fourth best run stop percentage in college football last season. His height (6-3) and length (34 3/8 arms) help him in coverage with the athleticism to shadow tight ends. He gets some criticism for not having elite speed to chase down running backs on the outside, but if the outside linebackers and safeties are doing their job, he shouldn’t have to.
Unlike Reddick, Cunningham has a lot of experience as an inside linebacker. A tackling machine the past two seasons, his 33 tackles for loss while averaging 114 tackles earned him All SEC honors in 2015 and All America honors last season. The 6-3, 234-pounder shows plenty of lateral agility with a 3-cone (7.03) on par with Reddick (7.01).
Jarrad Davis, Florida — Round 2
Davis is known for his leadership, intelligence, and great personality, which goes a long way with the Raiders these days. But on top of his intangibles, he is an aggressive downhill playmaker on the field who flashes some abilities in coverage as well, giving up just 11 catches on 21 targets (52%) last season with 3 passes defended.
He comes with some concerns. Chiefly the fact that he tends to get banged up a lot. And he can get too aggressive at times, causing him to play out of control as well as overrun plays. It’s those concerns that make him a round two pick in my view. Although there are certainly those who see him much higher. As they say, it only takes one team.
Duke Riley, LSU — Round 3
The Raiders are pretty familiar with LSU linebackers with the last name Riley. Perry Riley Jr was signed by the team last season and could very well still re-sign as a free agent this offseason. Perry even follows Duke on twitter.
The 6-0, 232-pounder didn’t start for the Tigers until his senior season which is just what Falcons star rookie Deion Jones did the season before for LSU with his departure to the NFL opening the door for Riley. Jones too was projected as a round two pick. Though he had better numbers across the board than Riley’s 93 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks last season.
Blair Brown, Ohio — Round 4
The last player the Raiders took out of Ohio was seventh round pick, TJ Carrie. That pick turned out pretty well, so you know they aren’t turning their nose up at a player from the MAC school. Carrie was California native as is Brown (Moreno Valley).
Brown was a beast for the Bobcats last season, putting up 128 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus numbers, Brown had the best tackling efficiency in college football and his run stop percentage was second only to Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Where he doesn’t do all that well is in coverage, giving up 23 catches on 28 targets with no passes defended.
The 5-11, 238-pounder also supreme athleticism at the combine with the best vertical among inside linebackers (37.0) and top five 3-cone (6.92), 40-yard dash (4.65), 20-yard shuttle (4.18), and broad jump (10’4”). Numbers only slightly below the ridiculous ones Ben Heeney put up at the combine in 2015 before the Raiders made him their pick in the fifth round.