MOBILE, Ala. — Among the defensive needs for the Raiders heading into free agency and the draft, none rise above linebacker. It’s a position that turned into a revolving door in 2019 due to the NFL suspension of inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a flurry of injuries and poor play.
With the dearth of playmaking and explosiveness from that group — of the Raiders’ 32 sacks, none came from a linebacker — it’s a position in need of a major overhaul.
“We’ve got to get better,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “We’ve got linebacker issues. People know that.”
The Raiders have the 12th and 19th pick in the first round, and barring a surprise quarterback grab at those spots, chances are their top two selections are not among the prospects at the Senior Bowl this week.
But the Senior Bowl is certain to yield much needed help deeper in the draft.
Here are three linebackers who figure to be available and may be of interest to the Raiders.
Zack Baun, Wisconsin
Baun is the latest in the growing trend in Madison of recruiting big-framed athletes regardless of position and building them into defensive standouts. Baun was a 205-pound high school quarterback who converted to linebacker upon arriving on campus.
Now 6-3 and 235 pounds, Baun was a high-motor, highly productive player last year. He finished with 75 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. He primarily played on the edge in 2019, but he anticipates a possible move inside where he can be deployed in run defense, pass coverage and as a blitz candidate. Those are dynamics the Raiders desperately need.
Baun has flashed pass-rush skills in one-one-one drills during practice in Mobile, but he’s also shown proficiency as a pass defender when matched against tight ends and running backs.
“I like doing both,” Baun said when asked if he preferred to play off the edge as a rusher or in pass coverage.
Francis Bernard, Utah
Bernard played defensive back in high school, but he bulked up and moved to linebacker at BYU before transferring to Utah. His defensive back experience helps in pass coverage, and his size, speed and toughness make him an intriguing three-down linebacker prospect.
He finished last season with 85 tackles and two interceptions and has looked good this week in both run fits and pass drops.
“(Pass coverage) is one of the cornerstones of my game, and the more I can sharpen that and the more I can show teams I can do that, the better I’ll be able to help them,” Bernard said.
Terrell Lewis, Alabama
Lewis is an incredible physical specimen at 6-5, 252 pounds, and he’s stood out on the edge this week. But he was injury prone at Alabama, playing just 16 games over the last three seasons, and that is an obstacle he will have to overcome.
Lewis isn’t shy about where he’d land in the draft had he stayed healthy.
“I think I’m a top five pick,” he said.
That isn’t likely to happen in April, and the injury factor could keep him out of the first and second rounds entirely. But when he’s drafted at some point, if he’s healthy, he could be a steal.