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NFL Draft: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego Chargers Top List of Teams That Must Think Linebacker on Draft Day
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
By Bob Evans
National Football Authority
With the 2012 NFL Draft just days away, National Football Authority has decided to take a deeper look at teams in desperate need of help at certain positions.
While the majority of attention is focused on where the top quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and cornerbacks will go; there are a number of teams in need of major upgrades at the linebacker position as well. However, just because a team is in need of an upgrade at the position, it does not mean they will address it in the first round.
With this in mind, this writer has compiled a list of the five individual teams with the biggest needs at the linebacker position, and paired them with the rookie they should consider targeting, and in what round the team should make the selection.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Sean Spence, OLB, Miami (Fla.), Third Round (68)
Tampa Bay’s group of linebackers was one of the worst in the league in 2011. They used a third-round pick in the 2011 draft on Mason Foster, who put up 84 tackles and two sacks, but had a rough time in his rookie season. The Bucs also gave big money to starting strong-side linebacker Quincy Black to keep him in town last season, but he looked like a completely different player from the two previous seasons.
With all of this in mind, the Bucs are simply picking too high to draft a linebacker in round one or two. These two picks will likely be used on addressing needs at cornerback, running back or left tackle--which is why they will target an outside linebacker in round three. Spence has the ability to play both strong-side and weak-side linebacker, which is exactly what the Bucs need.
2. San Diego Chargers – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama, First Round (18)
This one is simple; the Chargers’ biggest need is a rush outside linebacker. Sitting at No. 18 in the first round, the team will have the opportunity to upgrade a unit which was worst in the league last year.
Larry English simply has not developed the way they thought he would, which makes adding Upshaw here in the first round the most sense. He comes from a pro-style 3-4 defense at Alabama with Nick Saban, and has a knack for getting to the quarterback after posting 8.5 sacks in 2011.
3. New York Jets – Chandler Jones, DE/OLB, Syracuse, First Round (16)
A Rex Ryan defense needs versatile linebackers who can defend against the pass while being able to rush the quarterback as well. In 2011, the Jets seemingly did not have a linebacker on the roster—outside of David Harris—who fit that description.
Unless the Jets trade up for South Carolina product Melvin Ingram, Jones will likely be the pick. He can put his hand down and rush the edge in the 4-3, or stand up and play outside linebacker in the 3-4. Since he is a pure pass-rusher, has the measurables (6’5” and 266 pounds) and above-average explosion, he should be the pick when the Jets step to the podium.
4. Baltimore Ravens – Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California, Second Round (60)
The Ravens’ defense isn’t getting any younger, and eventually they will have to select a replacement for Ray Lewis. Unless Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower falls to them in the first round, they should be able to snag the Cal product in round two.
Despite being undersized (5’11” and 240 pounds), Kendricks showed off elite athleticism at the combine and has some people believing he plays like he is 6’4” and 250 pounds. He is excellent in coverage, hits like a truck and will certainly have a chip on his shoulder for the people saying he is too small for the position. Sounds perfect to replace Lewis, oh and the Ravens brought him in for a visit too.
5. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College, First Round (12)
The Seahawks lost starting inside linebacker David Hawthorne, so replacing him becomes a priority in this draft. Kuechly was one of the top linebackers in the country, so picking him at No. 12 seems like a natural fit.
With all of this in mind, this writer was tempted to leave Seattle out of the top five because their need for a pass-rusher is greater. The team literally had nobody that could get to the quarterback on a regular basis last season, but picking at 12 will be too low to get the top defensive end on the board, and likely too high to reach for the next one. So they go the safe route and address a need.