I started out with the intent of making a Production Ratio article for the Inside Linebackers, but along the way, I went down a Rabbit trail and got a little off tangent. All of a sudden I had a post that would mesh with the Production Ratio upcoming, but ended up being a stand alone post of it’s own.
It's been 7 years since Al Wilson was "retired" by Mike Shanahan because of a Neck injury. If it wasn't for that, Wilson might still be a Bronco. Heck, Al is only 35 years old. Nevertheless, Denver's Linebacking corp, once the heart of the "Orange Crush," simply hasn't been the same.
In my humble opinion, that needs to change.
A Defense needs a vocal leader. A guy who will carry the team on his shoulders. A player with a "Refuse to Lose" mentality that will make a play when he needs to, simply to elevate his teammates to greatness.
Randy Gradishar had it. Even though it was Tom Jackson who was the vocalist of the Orange Crush. Al Wilson had it too. The Broncos have Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller to make plays as Pass Rushers, but the Denver needs to solidify the middle of their D.
I don't know if there's an Al Wilson clone among the 2013 Draft prospects. If there is, the Broncos may not have the opportunity to select him. Kevin Minter seems to be the consensus stand out this year. Manti Te'o off trying to find a girlfriend, is a close second. Just off the top of my head, the Oakland Raiders are unhappy with Rolando McClain (signed through 2015) and the Bengals had an extremely poor year from Rey Maualuga, who is a UFA. Those two teams are picking ahead of Denver, at 3rd and 22nd respectively. Upon further inquiry, I went through the list to see which 4-3 schematic teams might need to draft a Middle Linebacker.
The Raiders have the No.3 pick and allegedly have a problem child on their hands in Rolando McClain. He is signed through 2015, so if anything, they may attempt a trade. There isn’t any Linebackers worth taking in the top three this year, so they may end up stuck with Rolando.
Witherspoon only started 6 games for the Titans in 2012 and nursed a Hamstring for 3 others. His stats have also been declining. Colin McCarthy (7 Starts) and Tim Shaw should make Tennessee pass on a Linebacker with the 10th pick.
Chase Blackburn had a pretty good season for the Giants and they have a 2nd year guy in Mark Herzlich behind him. Blackburn made $825K in 2012 on a 1-year deal. At 29, perhaps the Broncos should take a look at him.
The Bears are murmured to be on the fence in regards to re-signing Brian Urlacher. The 34 year old MLB made $7.5M in 2012 and it is difficult to think he would be worth that amount to another team. Nick Roach played well enough in his stead. Besides, the Bears need to protect Jay Cutler and the Offensive Line should be a priority for them.
The Bengals will be the team to look out for at the 21st draft spot. Rey Maualuga rated as the worst Inside Linebacker in the NFL last year. Contract years aren’t exactly the right time to fade either. Who knows, maybe they take a chance on Manti Te’o here. I highly doubt Rey Rey will have a job in 2013.
The Minnesota Vikings have to decide whether to re-sign Jasper Brinkley or move on. A 5th round pick in 2009, Brinkley became the starting MLB for the Vikings last season. He made $565K on the last year of his rookie contract and although he had a good year, he’s only started 19 out of 48 games. Jasper won’t be getting a huge raise and might be best served to re-sign in Minnesota with a performance laden deal.
So the way I see it, the Bengals are the only real competition in the 1st round who need a Middle Linebacker. It is rumored that the Dallas Cowboys are talking about switching to the 4-3, but I don’t know if that will happen. They have the 18th pick, but if they make that scheme change, I feel that they are stifling Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. I don’t think the Jerry Jones would be obtuse enough to pull an Al Davis move like that. But speaking of the Raiders, stranger things have happened.
None of my words take into affect the Salary Cap for each team, nor their other priorities in the Draft. I merely looked to see how set the 4-3 schematic teams were at Middle Linebacker. To help out the discussion, here is a list of Free Agent Inside Linebackers from Walter Football.