2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: Top Five Inside Linebackers

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Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain (55) in game action against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Dallas beat Detroit 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to think of a more crucial defensive position than the inside linebackers, especially the all-important “mike” or middle linebacker in a 4-3 alignment. Some of the all-time great defensive players in NFL history have played this position: Ray Nietzche, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Ray Lewis and others were primarily mike backers.

Last year, this position looked well-manned for the Raiders by veteran Nick Roach, who had been highly productive in his 2013 campaign. His primary backup was gritty run-stuffer Kaluka Maiava, another veteran. But both players went down early with injuries, and for most of the year, the position was filled by third year man Miles Burris, ostensibly an outside linebacker, who proved all year that he was playing horribly out of position.

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With both Maiava and Roach now cut, the Raiders are going to want to shore this position up quickly. There are a couple of decent options in the draft, but the Mike is the captain of your defense, and you want to have a veteran who can come in and start games for you right away.

Like with the outside linebacker positions, the term “inside linebacker” means different things depending on if you run a 3-4 front or a 4-3 front, and also whether you run an over or under 4-3 front, and whether you prefer single-high safety, Tampa 2, or different coverage packages. Some inside linebackers who play in a 3-4 are more likely fits to be 4-3 Will linebackers, while a Mike backer is going to be a Mike backer wherever he goes. Here are the top 5 inside linebackers in free agency right now:

Next: 2015 Free Agent ILB Rankings: #1 Rolando McClain