Ravens draft preview: linebackers

Every weekday until Wednesday, the day before the first round of the NFL draft, The Sun will examine where the Ravens stand at each position, the likelihood that they will address that spot early in the draft and some of the prospects that they may consider.

Today, we’ll examine the linebacker position:

Current linebackers under contract: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Sergio Kindle, Albert McClellan, Chavis Williams, Josh Bynes, Cody Glenn.

Chances that the Ravens draft a linebacker in first three rounds: Moderate. The Ravens lost a consistent and valuable performer in Jarret Johnson, but they solidified the group by resigning two-year starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain and valuable reserve Brendon Ayanbadejo. They also put a second-round restricted tender on Ellerbe, who will return. They’d still like to add even more depth to the position, but it doesn’t appear to be as big of a priority as other positions, like at offensive line and wide receiver. Kruger and little-used Sergio Kindle will have to prove capable of inheriting some of Johnson’s responsibilities, which include setting the edge against the run. With Lewis, McClain and Ellerbe, the Ravens appear to be set on the inside, though they know that they’ll have to prepare for life after Lewis sooner or later. What would be attractive to them is a linebacker who can get after the quarterback while also making some plays in the running game. Hightower fits that bill, but it seems likely that he’ll be picked before the Ravens are on the clock with the Pittsburgh Steelers being mentioned as a potential suitor.

Linebackers possibly on Ravens’ radar: Emmanuel Acho (Texas), Zach Brown (North Carolina), Dont’a Hightower (Alabama), Bruce Irvin (West Virginia), James-Michael Johnson (Nevada), Mychal Kendricks (California), Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma), Shea McClellin (Boise State), Sean Spence (Miami), Bobby Wagner (Utah State).

Outlook: Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta has termed this a “depth draft” for the Ravens, who are looking to add to their inventory at several positions. Linebacker is definitely one of them although the Ravens are optimistic about the future of guys like Ellerbe, Kindle and McClellan, all who figure to play more prominent roles this season. The top prospects at the position, like Boston College’s Luke Kuechly and Hightower, are unlikely to last to pick 29. But there will be plenty for the Ravens to choose from in rounds two through four. Kendricks is a max-effort tackling machine who some think could hold his own as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Oklahoma’s Lewis is an explosive rusher off the edge. Brown, a Columbia native who went to Wilde Lake, has worked out for the Ravens, but he’s probably better suited in a 4-3 defense. Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who once was viewed as a potential first-round fit for the Ravens, has fallen deep down draft boards to the point where he may not get selected at all. The Ravens have a habit of finding linebackers either late in the draft or as un-drafted free agents. They are not expected to take a linebacker in Round One unless Hightower surprisingly falls, but they’ll undoubtedly find at least one at some point during the draft.   

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