Heading into next week’s draft, one of the questions is not if, but when the Baltimore Ravens will draft an inside linebacker.
With just three players on the current roster capable of playing inside linebacker for the team next year – Jameel McClain, Rolando McClain and Josh Bynes – the Ravens will surely draft one or even two linebackers to fill the voids that Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe left.
Depending on how the first round plays out, the Ravens could target Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter with the 32nd pick. It’s a long shot that Brown is available, so the team would likely have to shift its focus toward the other three.
All three could ideally get selected prior to the 32nd pick or they could all still be available when the Ravens are on the clock. If that’s the case, the Ravens would likely attempt to trade back and still draft one.
However, if the Ravens don’t think too highly of any of the inside linebackers in the first or second round range, they could opt to wait until later in the draft to address the need. With multiple picks in each of the final four rounds, the Ravens will have ample opportunities to select an inside linebacker.
In the middle rounds, there are several starting-caliber inside linebackers that the Ravens could target.
Here are some potential targets for the Ravens:
Nico Johnson, Alabama
Coming from Alabama’s talented defense, Nico Johnson showed in college that he is capable of being a starter in the NFL. His best fit is in a 3-4, as he didn’t display exceptional range at Alabama and also wasn’t too successful in coverage. Granted, Alabama’s defense wasn’t geared toward the linebackers covering often. He has an ideal build; however, he doesn’t play too physically. He’s a fundamentally sound linebacker who doesn’t have a knack for forcing turnovers but could be an option in the fourth round.
Jon Bostic, Florida
Unlike Johnson, Jon Bostic plays with a mean streak that made him one of the most intimidating players on the Florida defense last season. He excelled against top-notch competition and displayed the ability to cover as well as blitz frequently. Of all the mid-round inside linebacker prospects, Bostic has the talent to be the best of the group. He could be available in the fourth round, though the Ravens may very well select him in the third-round if they target him.
Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
The most intriguing thing about Steve Beauharnais is that he has played in 50 consecutive games and has started 40 in a row. The Ravens have struggled in recent history to have healthy linebackers, so Beauharnais could be a solid insurance policy. He didn’t display much ability to blitz up the middle at Rutgers, but he’s a good form tackler who has enough range to cover in a 3-4 defense. He may not have starting capability in the NFL like Bostic and Johnson, but he can still be a valuable asset if selected in the fifth or sixth round.
Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Like former North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown, Kevin Reddick is more of an athlete than a football player right now. He’s a talented player who displays quickness and speed when playing, but often struggles with over pursuits and missed tackles. His athletic ability makes him an intriguing project, as he can certainly develop into a starter with improved technique and effort. He was a two-time captain at North Carolina, so his leadership could be an added plus to the already close-knit Ravens locker room. Expect Reddick to get selected in the fifth round.
Whether it’s in the first or fifth round, the Ravens will surely draft an inside linebacker at some point in next week’s draft. With plenty of options, the Ravens are in a prime position to capitalize on the myriad of options.