Columnist and 95.7 The Game personality John Lund continues a position-by-position look at the top players available in the 2014 NFL Draft with the linebackers.
The Raiders completely overhauled their linebacker corps in 2013. Free agent signings Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett were first and second in team tackles respectively. Rookie third round pick Sio Moore showed pass rush potential with 4.5 sacks and Oakland still has two players with experience who fought through injuries in 2013 in Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris (96 tackles as a rookie in 2012). Even with a solid group in place, the Raiders could still take a look at the top two prospects at linebacker in Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr who have special pass rushing skills on the outside and are expected to go in the top 10.
Khalil Mack - Buffalo - 6'3" – 251 pounds: Very good all-around Combine running a 4.65-second 40-yard dash and was at or near the top in all on-field drills. 2013 breakout game vs. Ohio State really put him on the map with 9 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown. One scout told me he is the whole package, can rush the passer or drop back in coverage. Special quick first step to the quarterback. In college played as a stand up linebacker and defensive end and is expected to do both again at the NFL level. Set an NCAA career record with 16 forced fumbles and is tied for first all-time in career tackles for loss with 75, finished his career with 28.5 sacks. Only perceived shortcomings are level of competition in college and can play out of control at times.
Where he'll go: Early first round. Could be a dark horse pick to the Raiders at number five overall. Both teams who draft immediately after Oakland, Atlanta at number six and Tampa Bay at number seven, need pass rush help and Mack is unlikely to get past that point. After Clowney, the best pass rusher in the draft and teams could call the Raiders for a trade to come up and get him. Remember, General Manager Reggie McKenzie traded back from number three overall to number 12 overall in 2013.
Anthony Barr - UCLA - 6'5" – 255 pounds: Ran a 4.66 40 at the Combine and managed 15 reps on the bench press. Has exceptional pass rush tools with possibly the best first step off the ball in the nation. Pursues well from behind and makes plays all over the field. Spent his first two seasons in college at running back and the last two at linebacker, so is a bit raw but figures to get better and has the tools, size and athletic ability you want at the position. Had 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2013.
Where he'll go: Top ten. He may need more time than Mack, but has the tools, just needs the experience. Could be a Raiders target if they decide to move down into the latter half of the top 10.
CJ Mosley - Alabama - 6'3" – 234 pounds: Inside linebacker who was the heart of Alabama's defense the last two seasons. 215 tackles and 17 tackles for loss the last two years. 2013 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top college linebacker. Did not run at the Combine. Scouts say he has top-of-the-line instincts, play recognition skills and football IQ. Plays the run and pass equally well.
Where he'll go: Mid to late first round. Not going to make the wow plays that Mack and Barr could make, but is a solid all-around middle linebacker who can play in space in today's passing NFL. Smart, prepared and good all-around player.
Ryan Shazier - Ohio State - 6'1" – 237 pounds: Eye-popping stats with 144 total tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2013. Did not run at the Combine but did 25 reps on the bench press and had a 42-inch vertical leap, which was number one among linebackers and only a 1/2 inch behind the all-time linebacker record at the Combine. Exceptional athlete with good speed and explosion, big-time hitter. A true three down linebacker who projects outside, but did play some inside at Ohio State.
Where he'll go: First round. I think he'll go somewhere in the 20's, but with some good NFL coaching, he'll play better than his spot. Reminds me of Bobby Wagner in Seattle and LaVonte David in Tampa Bay, athletic, rangy linebackers.
Kyle Van Noy - BYU - 6'3" – 243 pounds: Ran a 4.71 40 and managed 21 reps on the bench press at the Combine. Was one of the best linebackers in the nation as a junior in 2012 with 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and forced six fumbles while playing opposite 2013 top five pick Ziggy Ansah. Offenses focused on stopping him in 2013 and his numbers dipped some, also fought through injuries last season. More of a traditional all-around outside linebacker who does everything well.
Where he'll go: Second to third round. Isn't the elite, explosive athlete Mack or Barr is but is solid in all aspects.
Telvin Smith - Florida State - 6'3" – 218 pounds: His 4.52 40-yard dash was the second fastest for a linebacker at the Combine. Playmaker who had 90 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions in 2013, two picks were returned for touchdowns. Because of his size is not a fit for all schemes and a team will have to utilize ways to keep him uncovered. Gets to the ball fast and is a big hitter. Fiery team leader.
Where he'll go: Third to fourth round. He only started one season at Florida State and he is undersized. However, has potential to start in the right scheme and become a core special teamer with his speed, burst and hitting ability.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed in John Lund's Wheel Route column represent those of John Lund, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Oakland Raiders organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The author's views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Raiders officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.