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With Depth at Inside Linebacker, Ravens Could Wait to Find Their Guy

Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison and Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks.
Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison and Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks.

If you're tuned into mock drafts (of course you are), then you've probably seen that the Ravens are "expected" to draft either Oklahoma inside linebacker Kenneth Murray or LSU inside linebacker Patrick Queen.

But what if they don't? Where does that leave Baltimore at the position?

While the Ravens never did completely replace C.J. Mosley after he departed in last year's free agency, it doesn't mean they're intent to do so this offseason either. Baltimore could wait until the middle rounds to bolster the unit, and General Manager Eric DeCosta named inside linebacker as one of the positions with the most depth this year.

"I think when we look at the board, there's obviously guys who can do all three things – play the run, cover and blitz," Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz said. "But I think when we look at the guys throughout the draft, there are players that can help us in specific roles."

Murray and Queen can do it all. And for that reason, both might be off the board by the time the Ravens are on the clock with pick No. 28.

But Hortiz said there are prospects in the middle rounds that can "come in and cover, maybe play the run." When assessing Baltimore's specific needs, it may be the latter that's most important.

Baltimore signed Josh Bynes midway through last season to help stabilize the inside linebacker unit and crack down against the run. He filled that role well, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale used a lot of nickel and dime packages with just one inside linebacker on the field in passing situations. Safety Chuck Clark can drop down into the box to help provide more speed and versatility.

With Bynes headed to Cincinnati this offseason, the Ravens could use another run-stopper to pair with L.J. Fort, who is strong in coverage and as a blitzer. Chris Board and Otaro Alaka will also get opportunities to step into a starting role, but Baltimore needs more competition.

On Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft, the Ravens could find a prospect who might have more limitations than Murray or Queen, but be the complementary piece they need at a way cheaper price.

"I think with our versatility and the way Wink and those guys use guys in their specific roles, it helps us evaluate players that maybe can't do all the things but can do one thing well," Hortiz said.

Two mid-round inside linebackers who could fit the run-stopping bill would be Ohio State's Malik Harrison and Texas Tech's Jordyn Brooks.

Harrison led Ohio State with 75 tackles last season, including a whopping 16.5 for loss. He added 4.5 sacks and four pass breakups. He has great size at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, and unique athleticism after playing quarterback in high school and originally wanting to be at wide receiver in college. He moved to linebacker to get more playing time.

Brooks received All-Big 12 honors all four of his seasons. He led the Raiders with 108 tackles, including 20 for loss (top 10 in the nation) and three sacks last season. Like Harrison, he plays aggressively and attacks downhill, but has questions about his coverage ability.

Other inside linebacker prospects to keep an eye on include Oregon's Troy Dye, Wyoming's Logan Wilson and Appalachian State's Akeem Davis-Gaither.

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