83°F
weather icon Clear

What are the Raiders’ linebacker options in the draft?

Updated April 20, 2024 - 9:13 pm

The Raiders’ depth chart at linebacker suggests there is no need to invest in that position during the NFL draft.

But there is a difference between major need and some need, especially when digging deeper into that depth chart.

Starters Robert Spillane and Divine Deablo are entering the final seasons of their contracts. The Raiders would be wise to re-sign both, but with so many other pending free agents to consider, one or both could be candidates to leave in free agency.

Protecting themselves from the possibility of losing either one will be considered during the draft, which takes place Thursday through Saturday.

Here’s a look at what general manager Tom Telesco might be thinking at linebacker.

Second and third round

Overview

The Raiders have the 44th pick (second round) and 77th (third). Both seem too high to use at linebacker, where they are set at starter and have depth with Luke Masterson and potential in Amari Burney. And promising inside linebacker Darien Butler is returning after suffering a season-ending injury in the 2023 preseason.

Plus, there is no clear-cut, must-have linebacker in the second round and only a select few projects in the third. Someone would have to make an incredibly strong case for the Raiders to forsake other needs and draft a linebacker in this area.

Second- and third-round strategy: The Raiders are expected to address quarterback, offensive line and cornerback in the early stages, so don’t expect to see a linebacker in the first two rounds.

It would be a slight surprise if they tap into that position in the third round, but there are some compelling candidates if they decide to.

Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper, North Carolina State’s Payton Wilson and Kentucky’s Trevin Wallace make sense in the third round. Each is a borderline second-round quality prospect who represents solid value at pick No. 77.

Cooper is a long, rangy athletic playmaker who has the skills to develop into a three-down player. His ability to rush the passer and make plays in the backfield — he had eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season — create options in blitz packages, along with his run-stopping and pass-defending abilities.

Wilson’s draft grade is impacted by a high school knee injury he reinjured in his first summer at North Carolina State and a shoulder injury that cost him the final 10 games of 2021. But aside from a shoulder stinger in 2022 that sidelined him for two games, he suited up for 23 games between that season and 2023 and combined for 220 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.

Wallace has good instincts against the run and is athletic enough to make plays against the pass.

Perfect match: Cooper (third round)

Fourth through seventh rounds

Overview

This seems like the most likely point when the Raiders start looking at linebackers, but don’t be surprised if they wait until undrafted free agency to address the position.

Late-round strategy: Telesco is fond of identifying developmental traits at the lower draft levels. North Carolina’s Cedric Gray and Washington’s Edefuan Ulofoshio fit that bill.

Gray’s instincts, nose for the ball and tenacity made him a tackling machine at North Carolina. He recorded at least 190 tackles, 30 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks over the past three seasons.

Ulofoshio, a Bishop Gorman High graduate, continues to prove his doubters wrong. His positional understanding makes him a highly instinctive player who can make an immediate special teams impact. He could compete for a starting job in time.

Wyoming’s Easton Gibbs surpassed 100-plus tackles over the past two seasons and had 89 in 2021. He isn’t the fastest or most athletic player, but overcomes his physical limitations with awareness and instincts. His tackling prowess gives him a chance to earn a spot in the NFL.

Perfect fits: Ohio State’s Tommy Eichenberg (fourth round), Ulofoshio (fifth round), Notre Dame’s Marist Liufau (sixth), UCLA’s Darius Muasau (seventh)

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

Like and follow Vegas Nation
THE LATEST