The Raiders have needed a true middle linebacker for a very long time. They tried to address the position years ago with the drafting of Rolando McClain, but he flamed out. Nick Roach was supposed to be the guy, but he got injured and never lived up to his potential with the Raiders.
The team has signed two new linebackers this offseason in Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall, but they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning and a long-term answer is still needed. There are a few guys who might fit the bill in this draft.
Round 1- Devin White, LSU; Devin Bush, Michigan
The two Devins are also the two first-round middle linebackers available. If the Raiders want one of them, they may have to engage in some of that wheeling and dealing Mike Mayock has alluded to lately.
Devin White is the consensus top inside linebacker in this draft. He has ideal size for the position at 6’0”, 237 pounds. He ran a ridiculous 40 time of 4.42 at the Combine, which was very impressive until Bush ran a 4.43. White and Bush alike are as fast as many elite receivers, and faster than almost every tight end in the league.
White has incredible sideline-to-sideline speed, and he’s a physical freak who is a powerhouse against the run and also in blitz packages when rushing the passer. He is also fine in pass coverage and broke up six passes last year for LSU. His only issue is that he hasn’t been a linebacker for very long, converting in recent seasons from running back. He doesn’t have the best instincts for the position as players who have been linebackers since high school, and he can be schemed around and effectively blocked on downhill runs. Still, once the light truly turns on for him, he has a chance to be the best linebacker in the NFL.
Devin Bush is slightly smaller than White at 5’11”, but had a better vertical leap and broad jump so he might be an even better athlete. Bush is a violent and willing tackler and is excellent in coverage. He also has superb sideline to sideline speed and enjoys punishing ball carriers. There’s not much difference between he and White physically right now, but Bush already has a terrific command of his position. The reason White is rated more highly is that White’s potential upside is otherworldly.
Devin White is projected to go in the later part of the top ten, so if the Raiders wanted him, they might want to trade down a few spots. But if they want Bush, he’s commonly mocked to the Giants at 17 or the Steelers at 20, so they’d have to work their way to that range from 24.
Round 2- Blake Cashman, Minnesota
Cashman is perhaps the biggest riser in this draft after his Combine performance. A former walk-on with the Gophers, the knocks on Cashman were that he was not big or fast. Wrong! He measured in at 6’1” and 237, bigger than White or Bush at roughly the same weight. He also ran a 4.5, which is far faster than expected though not approaching the elite speed of White or Bush.
Cashman is an instinctual linebacker who has worked incredibly hard to get where he is, earning a scholarship after two years as a walk-on. He lacks the sideline to sideline closing speed of the Devins, but is a hard-nosed, blue-collar, lunch pail, coach’s kid, student of the game glue guy with a high football IQ who plays with a serious chip on his shoulder and can also be a core special teams player.
Round 4- Tyrel Dodson, Texas A&M
The former Tennessee Mr. Football is an explosive athlete with terrific upper body strength and good size at six feet and 237 pounds. He was a tackling savant at Texas A&M, leading the team with 105 tackles as a sophomore in 2017 and added 4.5 sacks that year as well. Dodson is a hustle guy who maximizes his physical gifts, but where he lacks is in technique. He can often he swallowed up by blocks and doesn’t properly use his strength to shed them. He has tight hips and doesn’t bend his knees well enough to remain fluid. He likes to tackle up high and doesn’t wrap the legs as he should. However, these are all things that can be coached, and in the later rounds you won’t find many prospects with his explosiveness and potential. The Texas A&M defense has been substandard for a long time, and perhaps the Raiders staff can do more with a promising player like Dodson.
Round 6- Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
Another Khalil from Buffalo? Don’t be shocked if Hodge is a target here. I’ve referred to some players on this list as “Tackling machines”, but Hodge is head and shoulders above anyone else in that department as he notched 154 tackles in 2017 and 144 in 2018. Hodge is a polished, pro-ready prospect who is prepared to pummel and pugilize even the most proficient professional players.
Hodge is 6’1” and 240 pounds and projects as a three-down do-everything linebacker. The main knock on him is speed, but Hodge didn’t get a NFL Combine invite and didn’t run the 40 until his Pro Day, where he ran a reported 5.03. That’s kinda bad, and it could push him down to this range when his actual football ability should have him in the second round. He could be an absolute steal anywhere past the third, he is that good.