2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: Top 5 Outside Linebackers

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Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Akeem Ayers (55) intercepts a pass intended for San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

5. Akeem Ayers

Pros: Big, athletic player who plays with good range and great lateral movement. Ayers is an effective pass rusher with the right size to play at the line of scrimmage, but has the range and tools to be useful in coverage and in run support as well. He is highly scheme versatile, and has a recent championship pedigree having spent most of last season with the Super Bowl champs.

Cons: Despite his range, he’s not particularly fast; despite his size, he’s not particularly strong. He isn’t going to be your best run defender, and he’s not going to be your best pass-rushing threat. He does a lot of things, but doesn’t do any one thing particularly well.

Scheme Fit: Ayers is a very versatile player who can be a strongside 4-3 linebacker in either an over, under or stacked front. He can also be a 3-4 outside linebacker, and has at points in his career also been used as an inside linebacker, though that wouldn’t be an ideal spot for him. He lacks the speed necessary to be a 4-3 Will linebacker, however, and that lack of speed prevents him from being an ideal edge rusher.

Market Value: Ayers was used in a lot of ways by Bill Belichick for the Super Bowl champions and now he’s probably going to cash in on the open market, as do many free agents coming off championship seasons. Look for Ayers, who is only 25 (he’ll turn 26 in July), to get overpaid to the tune of four to five years, $35M-$40M.

Would he sign with the Raiders: no. He’s a poor fit for the Raiders, since his best position fit is a position already occupied by Khalil Mack. He’s also going to have a big market despite being a good but not great player, and Reggie McKenzie won’t be fooled. I would be surprised to see Ayers even linked to the Raiders at any point in the signing period.

Next up: inside linebackers.