2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Middle Linebackers

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Jan 16, 2015; Alameda, CA, USA; Jack Del Rio (right) poses with Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie at press conference to announce his hiring as Raiders head coach at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No position group on the field for the Raiders last year was more glaringly lacking than the Middle Linebacker or Mike position. After a season-ending concussion sustained by Nick Roach in preseason and a season-ending injury to backup Kaluka Maiava early in the year, the position was manned mostly by 3rd-year outside linebacker Miles Burris, who struggled at the position for most of the season, especially early on while the Raider coaching staff was still trying to work out a good interior defensive line rotation. And while Nick Roach remains under contract for the Raiders, it’s likely that Reggie McKenzie will look to this years draft to address this position, to add depth if Roach can indeed play again, or to replace Roach and complete his young, talented linebacking corps that already consists of Khalil Mack and Sio Moore.

With the hiring of defensive head coach Jack Del Rio, a former NFL linebacker himself, there will be added emphasis on this position. Del Rio has his young quarterback and his young pass rusher in place, but like many defensive head coaches, he will want to find a middle linebacker who understands his vision and philosophy for the defense. In Jacksonville, he had Mike Peterson for six years until the two had a falling out. His Jacksonville defenses were never the same after Peterson departed.

More from Las Vegas Raiders Draft

Middle linebacker is a tough position to scout and draft, and a tough position for rookies to have an impact. The middle linebacker is the “quarterback” of an NFL defense, often the defensive player assigned to have a radio in his helmet, the one who must call out shifts, adjustments, change coverage and cancel blitzes. A rookie middle linebacker has a steep learning curve, and must learn to do all these things while also adjusting to the size and speed of NFL opponents. While there’s no substitute for watching game tape and having scouts go out and actually watch the player play, there are some things that can be done at the combine to reinforce or set your draft board at the middle backer position.

Here are five names that Reggie McKenzie may be keeping an eye on in Indianapolis:

Next: Linebacker to Watch: Eric Kendricks