The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 22. In advance of the annual meat market in Indianapolis, staff writer Matt Vensel will examine each position and give Ravens fans the 4-1-1. In this post he looks at outside linebackers
The top prospects:
Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, who had 9.5 sacks in 2011, would be a great fit for the Ravens, who may have to replace outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. The problem is that Upshaw is the top outside linebacker in April’s NFL draft and will likely be gone in the first 20 picks. He has good speed and range for a guy who is 273 pounds and he can hold up against the run. North Carolina's Zach Brown, a former standout at Wilde Lake, has great sideline-to-sideline speed and will be on the rise if he runs well in Indy. Oklahoma's Ronnell Lewis and Nebraska's Lavonte David are also among the top outside linebackers in the draft.
Other intriguing names:
Miami's Sean Spence has good speed, instincts and coverage skills, but at 5-foot-11, he's on the shorter side. Keenan Robinson of Texas also projects as a strong-side linebacker in the pros, but the last Longhorns linebacker the Ravens drafted, Sergio Kindle, hasn't worked out for them. Pittsburgh's Brandon Lindsey, who had 8.5 sacks in 2011, will get a chance to show off his athleticism. Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan was a tackling machine for the Wildcats.
Grading the class:
Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz told the team’s website that this is a good class for pass rushers, but the trick for the Ravens is finding ones who fit into their hybrid defensive fronts. They will identify college defensive ends who project as outside linebackers in the pros, too. But when it comes to the guys who played outside linebacker in college, there is some quality there, but not a ton of depth. I’ll grade this class a B-minus.
Fitting the Ravens:
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Ravens targeted an outside linebacker. Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent, and even if he does return, he will be 31 in August. Paul Kruger showed promise in his third season, but it’s unclear if the Ravens view him as a potential starter should Johnson sign elsewhere. The team has stated that they would like to add another pass rusher; that could either mean a defensive end or an edge-rushing linebacker to bookend with Terrell Suggs. If they had a tag team like Pittsburgh has in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the Baltimore defense, with Haloti Ngata rushing from the interior, would be very scary.