It’s no secret that the Raiders have needs all over their defense. Pass rusher is the top priority, but the Raiders need new blood at all the linebacker spots. Inside linebacker is a major spot of need for the Raiders, and wouldn’t you know there’s a fine crop of ILBs coming out in the draft. I would like to note that Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen, who I covered in the edge rusher article, can also play inside linebacker quite well and he would be an option for Oakland, but for the purposes of this piece I will be discussing pure ILB exclusively.
Devin White, LSU
White is the unquestioned cream of the crop in this inside linebacker class. The NFL is chock full of linebackers who played in Baton Rouge, but at the end of the day White has the potential to be the best ever.
White is 6’2”, 236 pounds of sheer fury. He excels at run defense, blitzing the quarterback and more than holds his own in pass coverage. He is the total package at ILB, comparing favorably to the all-time greats including Ray Lewis. He isn’t as hyped as Roquan Smith was last year, but White is every bit as good and Smith is starring on a tenacious Bears defense this year. White has worked his way into the Top 15 on most Big Boards, but it might be in the Raiders’ interest to trade within the first round to grab him.
Mack Wilson, Alabama
Another one of the several Tide defenders who will be taken in the upcoming Draft, Wilson is a consistent playmaker who excels in coverage as well as any linebacker in this draft. Wilson is 6’1”, 238 with terrific football instincts. He grabbed four interceptions in 2017 and has been stellar this year as well despite giving way to backups in the second half due to Alabama blowing everyone out.
Wilson could go as high as the late first round but is more likely a second-round pick and could go even later than that.
Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
Hodge is a bit of a diamond in the rough, playing for Buffalo. Sound familiar? Hodge has been overshadowed by his quarterback, Tyree Jackson, and receiver Michael Johnson, but he was college football’s second-leading tackler last year with 154 and has been just as impressive this season. He is fast and able to shed blocks with ease, and is an all-around contributor with plenty of pass breakups, forced fumbles and tackles for loss to his name. His reads and reactions and his mastery of the linebacker position is at the top of this class, and he is going to continue to get better. Hodge is the sort of guy who you might get in the third round, but a few years later people wonder how you managed such a steal.
TJ Edwards, Wisconsin
Edwards, much like former teammate Nick Nelson last year, is the leader of the Badgers defense. He is 6’1” and 244 pounds, so he is a little thicker than you usually see at ILB. He is a thumper in the middle and can solidify the center of a defense, swallowing up ball carriers and plugging up running lanes. He is also effective in zone pass coverage, able to work himself into position to be a ball hawk. He’s an energetic, high motor guy who won’t make too many mistakes. He should go in the middle rounds unless he has a slow combine, but he will be a great value even in Round 3.
Devin Bush, Michigan
Bush isn’t as big as some of the other guys on this list, at 5’11” and 232 pounds, but he is quick and smooth with the intelligence to excel in any scheme. He looks to lay the wood on every play and uses his explosiveness to drive through the ball carrier. He plays with intensity and is known to start fights and play with a chip on his shoulder, so he fits the Raider mystique already.
Bush’s main issue is with shedding blocks, as he doesn’t possess the length or size to easily get off blocks the way Hodge does. He can defend backs very well in the flat and use his instincts and smarts to diagnose plays and work himself into position to make the tackle. Bush is a tough and gritty defensive player who might be better in theory than in practice, but he always has an impact on the game.