Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Ranking team needs: Inside linebacker
By Jamison Hensley
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Tuesday, the blog is addressing inside linebackers. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five inside linebackers are: Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Alec Ogletree, LSU's Kevin Minter, Florida's Jonathan Bostic and Rutgers' Steve Beauharnais.
Here are the rankings (the greater the need, the higher the ranking):
1. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens thought they had at least a stopgap solution in Rolando McClain. But this latest arrest puts his future with the Ravens in jeopardy. Plus, even if the Ravens decide to keep him, they don't know if he'll be available for the entire season. His repeated off-the-field issues could result in a multi-game suspension by the NFL. Also, Baltimore is hopeful Jameel McClain can return from last year's spinal cord contusion but there is no guarantee. The Ravens have been linked to Te'o and Minter at the bottom of the first round.
2. Cleveland Browns: The Browns are banking on D'Qwell Jackson being able to go back to play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The other starting job is expected to come down to a battle between Craig Robertson and James Michael-Johnson, two players brought in by the former regime. It's possible that the Browns will take an inside linebacker in the middle rounds.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers did a good job in keeping Larry Foote in free agency. There would have been a big void otherwise. But he's 32 and he may not finish out his new three-year deal. The future is supposed to be Sean Spence, a third-round pick from a year ago. His status is uncertain after suffering a catastrophic knee injury last year. Even though they have Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers may have to consider a developmental prospect later in the draft to groom next to him.
4. Cincinnati Bengals: The biggest question here is who's going to be the middle linebacker for the Bengals? It could be Rey Maualuga or Vontaze Burfict. If one gets hurt, the other would replace him in the middle. The Bengals' depth at this position did take a hit when Dan Skuta signed with the San Francisco 49ers. If the Bengals take an inside linebacker in the draft, it would be more for special teams than an immediate impact on defense.