So far this offseason, everything has gone right for the Baltimore Ravens in the middle of the defense.
Daryl Smith signed a four-year deal to stay in Baltimore, Josh Bynes returned on a one-year deal, and the Ravens are officially done with the two McClains, Jameel and Rolando (OK we THINK they’re done with Rolando, but we’ll believe it when we see it this time).
Right now, the depth chart at inside linebacker isn’t one to complain about, with the opening day starting duo promising to be Smith and Arthur Brown at this point. However, adding another linebacker could relegate Brown to another rotational role, albeit one that sees him on the field for much more than the measly 211 snaps he accrued during his 2013 rookie campaign.
Depth is also needed, mainly because Brown and Smith, while the potential starting duo, are weakside linebackers by nature. Smith was forced into the strongside role last season, and will likely be in that spot again in 2014 barring any changes, which proved to be an unnatural position at times for him in 2013.
Perhaps Baltimore makes another Smith-like signing, stealing a veteran off the market on a cheap post-June 1 deal. Until then, the only other means of adding depth at inside linebacker is the draft, less than two weeks away.
Who are some potential options for the Ravens at inside linebacker?
C.J. Mosley, Alabama – How often do linebacker prospects as well-rounded, complete and developed as Mosley come along? Prospects of Mosley’s stature are rare, and in this draft, he’s the uncontested top inside linebacker.
A downhill thumper between the tackles, Mosley’s pursuit playing toward the sidelines is more than impressive, and he’s the total package when it comes to linebackers. Injuries have raised concerns, though, which do bring caution to his long-term sustainability in the NFL.
Dislocated elbow and hip, 2 shoulder surgeries, 4th year over the NFL… and you question who my team is!? Lol stop the madness!
— CJ Mosley (@TreyDeuce32RTR) December 8, 2013
There’s a good chance he’ll be available at 17 when the Ravens are on the board. Baltimore doesn’t need an inside linebacker THIS high in the draft, and Mosley would be a “well it doesn’t fill a need, but he’s still a great player” pick. If drafted by Baltimore, he would be able to rotate between both spots, and a duo of Mosley and Brown in the long run would be a fairly dominant combination to have.
Two things: the Ravens need another run-stopping linebacker, which led to these three rounding out this post, and the inside linebacker class as a whole is fairly underwhelming, so the options were limited from the get-go.
Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky – Jackson certainly looks the part of a run-stopping 3-4 inside linebacker at 6’1, 254 pounds, and he often plays the part, too. Possessing a stout, thick frame, Jackson uses it to his advantage as he proved to have the consistent ability to shed blocks when in a downhill mentality.
In run defense, Jackson is among the best in this class at attacking gaps full speed with his eyes on the ball carrier. He has good closing speed for his size, but won’t provide much value in the passing game, and projects primarily as a run defense only linebacker in the NFL. Although in today’s NFL, that type of role is diminishing with quick-tempo, pass-first offenses.
Avery Williamson, Kentucky – The story for Williamson is much similar to Jackson: someone who excels at shooting gaps up the middle and making an impact in the run game. Williamson is a tackling machine, and possesses a more diverse skill set than Jackson, as he does add some value in pass defense.
Williamson would fall somewhere between Bynes and Brown in terms of skill set in Baltimore. Not quite the run-stop-first style of Bynes and not the complete athlete Brown is. If the Ravens are looking for a player who plays at full speed on every play and has the tools to become a complete linebacker, Williamson is worth a look.
Shayne Skov, Stanford – Few linebackers symbolize the true two-down linebacker definition than Skov, who will be almost exclusively a run-stopping thumper in the NFL. Struggling to break 5.2 seconds in his 40-yard dash during workouts, Skov’s lack of speed translates to his play, as he was never a cover first linebacker in college.
If a team drafts Skov with the full intention of only using him on run downs, then he can be a productive player in the NFL. He possesses a thick frame and physical playing style, and can provide value against the run.