2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: Top 5 Outside Linebackers

1 of 6

Oct 12, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Washington Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo (98) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After reviewing the top five defensive tackles and top five defensive ends available when the NFL free agent signing period begins next Monday, it’s time to look to the “second level” of the defense, to the linebackers. The Raiders are a team run by linebackers: General Manager Reggie McKenzie, Head Coach Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. were all NFL linebackers. The two most promising young players on the defense – including last year’s #5 overall pick who will likely be the cornerstone of the defense for years to come – are linebackers.

While good defenses begin up front, a defense is only as good as it’s second level defenders. Linebackers are the most versatile players in all of football, asked to play pass coverage, rush the quarterback, and be the team’s primary tacklers in the run game. If your defense is successful, linebackers should be your leading tacklers.

Outside linebackers in today’s NFL are a diverse group of athletes. In today’s climate of multiple front defenses, over and under 4-3 sets and 3-4 or NASCAR alignments, an outside linebacker can be several things. You have your old-school 4-3 outside linebackers, players like Sio Moore or Lance Briggs, players who play away from the line of scrimmage and are primarily run defenders who play a mix of zone and blitz on passing downs. You have your “over” or “under” 4-3 outside backers, often called “Sam” or “Stud” backers who line up close to the line of scrimmage and more often rush the passer. And then you have your 3-4 rush linebacker prototypes, guys who would probably play defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.

More from Las Vegas Raiders Free Agency

The Raiders are set at outside linebacker in any kind of 4-3 type of look, to be frank. Sio Moore is having hip surgery, but should return in time for the season and has been a very solid player in his first two years in the league. Khalil Mack was ESPN’s Defensive Rookie of the Year last year, and is the cornerstone upon which the rest of the defense will probably be built. But neither player has exceptional depth behind him. Miles Burris, who was one of the worst linebackers in the NFL last year while filling in as a middle backer, is the probable backup to Moore at that “Will” position. Khalil Mack doesn’t have a clear backup, but it’s likely Benson Mayowa.

The Raiders also have a need for another edge rusher to compliment Mack, a LEO or Elephant player who can flex as a 4-3 weakside end or a 3-4 weakside rush linebacker. With Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton Jr. coming together to build the Raider defense in their image, it will be interesting to see how they approach the linebacker position, and how they use existing and new personnel. With that said, here are the five best outside linebackers in free agency this year.

Next: 2015 Free Agent OLB Rankings: #1 Jason Worilds