The Raiders struggled on defense at various points last year and it's not entirely clear whether the Raiders will have any of 2012's starting linebackers other than Miles Burris back. Two of last year's starting linebackers - Phillip Wheeler, Omar Gaither – will be free agents in March if the team doesn't resign them before March 12th.
The other starting linebacker, Rolando McClain, is a likely cut this offseason.
The team is also potentially moving to a 3-4 alignment. In that scenario, Burris would likely move from weakside LB, where he played in the 4-3 alignment, to inside linebacker in the 3-4.
The team, therefore, will be in the market for linebackers – both outside and inside linebackers.
Here is a look at the top prospects in each category in the 2013 NFL Draft:
1. Chase Thomas 6’4 250 lbs Stanford
Thomas is far from flashy as an athlete, but he more then makes up for it with great technique and motor. With a great first step and and good hand useage, he can bend the edge and has a good array of moves to get to the QB but he needs to add a power move.
Thomas is a good run defender, able to get his arms extended then shed blocks to make the tackle but he can get overwhelmed by better tackles and run at. He might not have the upside of others but has more refined technique.
Pro Comparison: Connor Barwin
2. Zaviar Gooden 6’2 230 lbs Missouri
Gooden has improved every year at Missouri to his credit. He's a natural ball player who is always involved in the play.
He has the speed and burst to be an elite backer but he needs to improve on his read and react ability. When he reads the play right, however, there is no one better to watch.
He does an excellent job filling running lanes, causing pressure on the QB or breaking up passes. A passionate and violent football player, Gooden leads by example.
An injured hamstring this year caused him to miss only 2-3 games and over his college career he's proven very durable.
Pro Comparison: Sean Weatherspoon
3. Sean Porter 6’2 230 lbs Texas A&M
After being a 3-4 backer at A&M, Porter transitioned to a 4-3 this year. He still shies away from blocks, a problem during his junior year but he does look to have improved a bit in that area.
I would like to see him improve his stack and shed ability. He shows good fluidity and movement in zone and possesses good instincts when ball is in front of him.
Pass rushing is where Porter excels and A&M didn't use him enough to rush the passer,
Porter mainly gets by blockers using his athleticism and will have to get some moves to be more effective in this area in the NFL.
Pro Comparison: Akeem Ayers
4. Khaseem Greene 6’1 230 lbs Rutgers
Greene started off as safety in college before moving to linebacker where he excelled. A “natural playmaker” you’ll always see Greene around the ball.
He shows good skills in coverage and plays well in space. While he is a good coverage backer he strggles mightly to stack and shed blocks. He improved in that area this year and he is still learning the position but he needs to be more “rough” when shedding blocks.
Greene could really excel in a Tampa 2 defense at OLB.
Pro Comparison: James Anderson
5. Jamie Collins 6’4 240 lbs Southern Miss
Collins came into Southern Miss after playing QB & LB in Prep school and the team originally intended for him to be a wide receiver or quarterback for their squad.
In trying to find his proper place, Collins was converted to defensive back, then to a linebacker/rush backer.
Despite being still learning the nuances, Collins has shown improvement every year. He posses solid coverage skills from being a safety.
I’d like to see him get better against the run when taking on blockers but he shows great athletic ability in space, which is important at the outside LB position. He is best suited for 3-4 OLB role where he can rush the passer and operate in space.
While raw and still lacking fundamentals, with the right coaching he could be a terror for NFL defenses.
Pro Comparison: Ahmad Brooks
1. Arthur Brown 6’1 235 lbs Kansas State
A tad undersized than a prototypical linebacker, Brown more then makes up for it with his athletic ability.
He stacks and sheds blocks , flies to the ball with sideline to sideline speed, shows good movement and skills in coverage – he has had interceptions against good pro prospects like RG3 and Geno Smith in college.
Its his instincts and ability to read the ball that has him the top of my list. Brown could play inside in any front and outside backer in a 4-3.
Brother of NFL running back Bryce Brown.
Pro Comparison: Navorro Bowman
2. Manti Te’o 6’2 240 lbs Notre Dame
Te’o looked like a great story after losing loved ones this year and still going out on the field and performing however there are many questions he'll now have to answer in the wake of the "catfishing" scandal that rocked the football world last month.
Still, Te'o is a natural leader and has a passion for the game that will have at least a few teams loving his character.
Te’o also has the ability, has improved in every facet of his game this year in coverage and in the run game. Best suited for “Thumper“ role ILB in a 3-4.
While people talk about taking him in top 5 he lacks the “special” in his football ability for me to take him that high especially at a position like MLB that can be found later in draft.
Pro Comparison: AJ Hawk
3. Kevin Minter 6’1 245 lbs LSU
Minter might be best Linebacker at shedding blocks in the entire 2013 draft. He's able to engage a blocker but still shed the block to make the tackle and he's athletic enought to make it look easy at times.
He's a real “roamer” that will go sideline to sideline breaking up offensive plays with his quick twitch instincts.
Great tackler, taking good angles and wrapping up ball carriers and can deliver a train wreck hit as well.
Minter is solid in coverage & can hold his own but the defensive coordinator won’t want him holding it too long as he isn't able to maintain coverage.
Minter is a leader and kept LSU’s defense together as they didn’t perform the same without him.
Pro Comparison: D’Qwell Jackson
4. Alec Ogletree 6’3 232 lbs Georgia
A former safety who has great range and coverage skills at the linebacker position, Ogletree is very athletic and can roam sideline to sideline with ease.
He's an average tackler who looks for big hit rather then bringing ball carrier down.
He's good at tracking the ball and running to it but he can take the wrong gap at times, leaving running lanes open.
He has very hot/cold read and react skills. Lacks physicality, runs around or through blocks rather then taking blocks on, struggles to disengage once linemen has his hands on him and will need to really improve his stack and shed skills to be a good NFL linebacker.
Best suited to move outside in a 4-3 defense.
NFL Comparison: Thomas Davis
5. Nico Johnson 6’3 245 lbs Alabama
Raider fans are most likely are never going to want an Alabama linebacker again after the Rolando McClain debacle, but Johnson is a very different player.
He's a great run defender that sheds blocks well showing good hand useage and getting good leverage on the block to push linemen back and make the play.
He diagnoses plays well, reading and reacting on a dime. Good in zone coverage when the ball is in front of him but he's not so good when having to run in man coverage, so he could be primarily a runing-down backer.
Johnson is not the flashiest linebacker but has solid fundamentals to play in the NFL.
Pro Comparison: David Harris
Tyler is a Raiders fan and draft aficionado. You can read more of his thoughts on Twitter @Raiderpedia