The Bengals are at home, talented, healthy, and pissed. The Rams are
poorly-coached, their QB is a stiff who lost his job to Case freakin' Keenum,
their receivers are awful, their O-line is practice squad-quality, and
the only unit on their team that could be considered a strength at this
point (D-line) is banged up and lining up against a stout Cincy O-line.
The only way things could be worse is if...oh, I don't know...one of
their teammates was nearly murdered or something. What makes you think that Rams will rebound in this spot?
The Raiders have some solid building blocks on defense, but they still need lots of help on this side of the ball, particularly at linebacker. Jaylon Smith would provide a big boost in the lacking middle of Oakland's stop unit, and he also happens to be one of the best prospects available at this juncture, so he makes sense for multiple reasons.
Rd. 1, Pk. 16
Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
The Jets' defense has been performing better than expected, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't use some upgrades. The middle of their defense could use some help. David Harris will be 32 in January, while Demario Davis will be entering free agency in the spring.
Pick change; previously Scooby Wright, DE/OLB
Rd. 2, Pk. 24
Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU
I don't trust these Atlanta linebackers, outside of Brooks Reed, so the Falcons could opt to strengthen this group during the offseason.
Lawrence Timmons has enjoyed a great career in Pittsburgh, but it appears as though it's coming to an end. Timmons, 30 next spring, has regressed recently and hasn't been good at all this year. He has a $15 million cap hit next year, so there's no way he'll be back at that price. He may not be back at all.
Washington's two primary inside linebackers, Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley, will be free agents in 2016 and 2017, respectively. They haven't played particularly well anyway, so if the Redskins aren't in a position to improve the secondary, perhaps they'll look into bolstering their linebacking corps.
As Darren McFadden just illustrated, the Dolphins need to upgrade their linebackers. Many expected them to address the position in the 2016 NFL Draft, but they targeted other positions early. Here's a difference-maker for the middle of the Miami defense.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder has the skills to cover in the passing game and be an impact run defender. In 2015, Smith has totaled 98 tackles, eight for a loss, one sack, four passes broken up and one forced fumble (he was robbed of one by the official scorer). He was all over the field for the Fighting Irish in 2014 with 112 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, 3.5 sacks and two passes defended. Smith has speed and athleticism in the middle of the field with the ability to start on the inside or the outside.
Pick change; previously Ronnie Stanley, OT
Rd. 1, Pk. 13
Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
The Bears look to rebuild their defense with a linebacker who could restore the great tradition in Chicago. This is a bit high for Ragland, but there isn't a defensive back worth taking and the defensive front seven prospects available would be somewhat redundant with that the Bears already have.
For the year, Ragland has 85 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, five pass breakups, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. His man coverage on tight ends like Arkansas' Hunter Henry and Ole Miss' Evan Engram has been very impressive. That, in combination with Ragland's pass rush as a defensive end, has illustrated his three-down starting potential for the NFL. In 2014, Ragland notched 95 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, three passes broken up, one interception, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 254-pounder is a big, physical in-the-box defender.
Pick change; previously Jaylon Smith, LB
Rd. 1, Pk. 30
Scooby Wright III, 3-4OLB/OLB/ILB, Arizona
The Broncos could use an enforcer in the middle of their defense, plus Wright is a good value right here.
Wright has recorded eight tackles in 2015 and has only played in two games. In the season opener, he suffered a knee injury - a lateral meniscus tear - that he underwent surgery for. Wright came back after missing only two games, but he clearly rushed back and wasn't the same. Wright sprained his foot in his first game back - a loss to UCLA - and hasn't played since.
Wright took college football by storm in 2014. The 6-foot-1, 246-pounder was a pass-rushing force for the Wildcats and one of the top defenders in the Pac-12. He had 14 sacks with 163 tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles for the year. Wright is an instinctive linebacker and was all over the field for Arizona. In 2013, he notched 83 tackles with 9.5 for a loss and an interception.
The Redskins could use some inside linebacker help.
Brothers has made a huge impact so far in 2015, recording 140 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two passes batted and a blocked punt. The 6-foot-1, 235-pounder was one of the top tacklers in the SEC in 2014, recording 122 tackles alongside one sack and four passes broken up.
The Raiders traded away Sio Moore and have a lot of veterans starting the middle, but lack a dynamic starter. Here's a potential leader for Oakland's defense.
McKinzy (6-3, 253) is a tough run defender who has shown good instincts. In 2015, he has 66 tackles with 10 for a loss, five sacks and a forced fumble. McKinzy put together quality tackles totals as a junior (91) and sophomore (75).
Rd. 3, Pk. 22
Antonio Morrison, ILB/OLB, Florida
The Chiefs are still searching for an inside linebacker to pair with Derrick Johnson, and with Johnson aging, it is becoming increasingly important.
In 2015, Morrison has 79 tackles with 11 for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a pass breakup. He suffered a serious knee injury in spring practice that required surgery, and most players miss a year after that kind of injury, but Morrison (6-1, 229) made a record-setting recovery to play this year.
Morrison had 101 tackles with six tackles for a loss, one forced fumble, one sack, one pass broken up and one interception in 2014. He improved as the season progressed and is a tough run defender. Morrison still has room for improvement in pass coverage and needs to get bigger for NFL blockers.
The Bengals go with the best player available and grab some linebacker depth.
Matakevich (6-1, 230) was on fire to open the season and put together excellent games against quarterback prospects Christian Hackenberg and Gunner Kiel. Matakevich has 107 tackles with four sacks, 12.5 for a loss, five passes batted, and five interceptions on the year. He is a tough, physical linebacker who looks short on speed and athleticism for the NFL.
The senior has been a consistent and steady contributor for Temple, eclipsing 100 tackles in each of his previous seasons. He racked up 117 tackles with 10.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and three passes broken up in 2014. Matakevich had 136 tackles as a sophomore after putting up 101 stops the year before.
Sometimes, a great football player will be underrated by NFL GMs. I had CJ Mosely going 4th overall to Cleveland in my final 2014 mock draft and had Eric Kendricks as Minnesota’s 1st round pick in 2015. Here, I see the same thing happening to Jaylon Smith. He’s a field general type of linebacker; a natural on the field who finds a way to get involved in every play possible. He has experience calling plays on the field, and if the Giants draft him, he could be a candidate to lead this team in tackles and represent them at the pro bowl as a rookie.
A tackling and run defending linebacker is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Chiefs. I like Ramik Wilson (a 4th round pick in 2015) to make for a solid inside linebacker, but with Kansas City’s current starting linebackers aging and in contract years, it’s perhaps time to add a potential starter asap.
If Scooby Wright didn’t get injured, I’d bet that he’d go much higher than here. He can terrorize QBs as a rush linebacker and also play inside in the 3-4 that Arizona runs. No exact idea where he plays most his snaps at this moment, but Arizona would salivate over him on the field in general. Look for him to shoot upward on mock drafts everywhere once he’s healthy.