GM profiling: Graves and the linebackers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' search for quality outside linebackers continues. As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic pointed out, none of the team's drafted linebackers has earned a Pro Bowl berth since E.J. Junior in 1985.

Division rivals Seattle (Lofa Tatupu) and San Francisco (Patrick Willis) have each drafted a Pro Bowl linebacker in the last four years. Perhaps the Cardinals' turn comes this year. The team figures to target the position, if practical, somewhere in the first few rounds. The Cardinals will look for players to fit the 3-4 tendencies Arizona will likely show under new defensive coordinator Bill Davis.

The chart -- showing every linebacker the team has taken this decade, with general manager Rod Graves in a leadership role the whole time -- adds perspective.

The Cardinals haven't drafted a linebacker higher than 33rd during that span. Going back further, Graves' teams twice used the 11th choice for the position -- John Thierry (1994) and Wilber Marshall (1984) in Chicago -- but eight of the 35 linebackers Graves' teams have drafted since 1984 have fallen among the 33rd through 51st picks. That was nearly three times the rate for the rest of the league during the same span.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. offered a few thoughts on the Cardinals' search for an outside linebacker in this draft:

  • "That is going to be tough. If you look at our first-round mock, four positions will dominate: OLB, OT, QB and WR. Finding that hybrid guy in the late first round is going to be tough. The guy we have them taking is [Connecticut running back] Donald Brown just because of the value."

  • "The guy they could reach a tiny bit for and a guy we are high on is Larry English, outside linebacker/defensive end from Northern Illinois. A lot of people are high on this guy. He is a home run in the second round. If you get him late first, we are not talking about much of a reach."

  • "Another guy who could sneak into the late first round is Connor Barwin, who is just an amazing athlete and has the mental makeup to develop into a very good pass-rusher off the edge. He's going to come off the board fairly early in the second round."

  • "[Connecticut defensive end] Cody Brown is someone we think they can get late in the second round. He could convert to outside linebacker. He is not as talented as the Larry Englishes and the Connor Barwins, but he is a solid outside rusher prospect in a 3-4 scheme."

  • "You see eight guys in the second round [for Graves' teams since 1984]. The thing that jumps out is that out of all these years and all the linebackers, two in the first round, a great deal in the second and the middle rounds dominated, too. Maybe that is what you say. If their running back is there in the first, the good value for an outside linebacker could be from the second round on."