After losing C.J. Mosley in free agency, it's no secret the Ravens may use the draft to help fill the void.
The inside linebacker class is being evaluated closely as the team formulates its plans. Devin White of LSU and Devin Bush of Michigan are generally regarded as the top two in this year's draft. But with the Ravens holding the 22nd pick, General Manager Eric DeCosta doesn't expect either White or Bush to still be available at that point.
That leaves the Ravens doing a deeper dive into the inside linebacker pool, as they reshape a defense that plans to remain among the NFL's best, despite losing Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowler and one of the team's defensive leaders.
"Bush and White, excellent players," DeCosta said after the Ravens' pre-draft press conference. "Both guys probably gone before we pick, I would guess. But some very, very good players in that second tier as well that we think have a chance to be quality football players. So we'll know those guys really well. We've interviewed a lot of inside linebackers this year, at the Combine and in the all-star games, and we feel good about the board."
Finding quality at the inside linebacker position has been a strength during the Ravens' draft history, with Hall of Famer Ray Lewis being the prime example. As the 26th pick in the 1996 draft, Lewis was among the best value picks in NFL history. While the Ravens don't expect anyone in this class to approach Lewis's stature, they would like to find a versatile playmaker with a nose for the football.
The Ravens took inside linebacker Kenny Young in the fourth round (122nd overall) last year and he became an immediate contributor (51 tackles, 2 ½ sacks) as part of the team's strong 2018 rookie class. Baltimore expects Young to take another step forward next season, while fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor is coming off his best season (54 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception). Onwuasor was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after a December victory against the Los Angeles Chargers, forcing a fumble by Antonio Gates to that led to a scoop-and-score by Tavon Young which to seal the win.
Asked about the Ravens' philosophy on finding inside linebackers, DeCosta says production says a lot.
"Just find the guy that makes the tackle. It's not rocket science," DeCosta said.
"You just find the guy that plays fast and makes the play, and those are the guys you want. Defense is just making tackles. It's almost an individual position in some respects. It's the guy that's getting to the football. If you can find that guy on everybody's team who gets to the ball before everybody else, you're probably going to get a good football player."
Here are three inside linebackers in this year's draft class, other than White and Bush, who are getting attention:
Mack Wilson, Alabama
With six interceptions the past two seasons, Wilson is the kind of playmaker the Ravens covet. We also know the Ravens often draft Alabama players. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has Wilson going No. 24 to the Cincinnati Bengals in his latest mock draft. The Ravens don't have a second-round pick, but if they trade back, Wilson could become a stronger possibility.
David Long, West Virginia
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, Long visited the Steelers this week. He was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and when reviewing inside linebacker prospects on tape, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said Long stood out.
Bobby Okereke, Stanford
Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com compares Okereke to Kiko Alonso of the Miami Dolphins.
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Okereke played four seasons at Stanford and showed ability as an inside blitzer last season with 7 ½ sacks. The Ravens are also looking for pass rushers, so Okereke could fit the bill.
Mack Wilson, Alabama
With six interceptions the past two seasons, Wilson is the kind of playmaker the Ravens covet. We also know the Ravens often draft Alabama players. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has Wilson going No. 24 to the Cincinnati Bengals in his latest mock draft. The Ravens' don't have a second-round pick, but if they trade back, Wilson could become a stronger possibility.