One area of that has become increasingly difficult in getting right in an NFL defense has been the linebacker position. The Oakland Raiders definitely fall into this category. With the league becoming an increasingly passing-centric one, it has put more of an emphasis on the pass rush and less on stuffing the run from the second level of the defense.
For that reason, it has become much harder to find the right type of middle linebacker that can play in this league. Not only does an NFL inside linebacker have to the able stop the run, but he must now be able to make a bunch of plays in pass coverage.
Long gone are the days of put 10 men in the box and battling with a power back for three yards and a cloud of dust. Initially this looks to be a deeper inside linebacker class in the 2018 NFL Draft, but not one that is as strong as the one we saw in 2017.
With the Raiders having not prioritized the position in recent NFL Drafts, let’s take a look at five inside linebackers that Oakland could look at during the 2017 NCAA season. These are players that will likely be taken on either day two or day three of the 2018 NFL Draft. Maybe a few elevate their stock to first-round status after a great last year of college ball.
The gold standard of middle linebacker play in major college football has to be what Nick Saban does with his Alabama Crimson Tide defense. Alabama recruits better than every program in the Power 5 annually. Because of the rigorous practices Saban has his team endure, competition is key to his ability to replace NFL talent leaving his program for the draft annually.
The guy to watch in Saban’s defense this year is senior Shaun Dion Hamilton. He has the difficult task of replacing probably the best middle linebacker to play in Tuscaloosa for Saban in Reuben Foster, now with the San Francisco 49ers.
Since Hamilton hasn’t been the man in the middle of the Alabama defense for as long as Foster had, he’ll likely be fresher heading into his senior year with the Crimson Tide. Saban tends to overwork his best players in his endless pursuit of more titles, but Hamilton doesn’t seem like a player whose body will breakdown before he enters the league.
At 6-feet, 233 pounds, Hamilton has the frame to be a sound run defender. This is the area of defense where he specializes. However, he may be a tad too slow to be great in coverage. Hamilton would be a day two pick, likely a better pro version of what the Raiders already have in Marquel Lee. Good in the run, suspect against the pass, but technically sound and quick above the shoulders.