With at least two players becoming free agents, a star coming off a season-ending injury and questions with almost every other linebacker on the Detroit Lions roster, chances are good that the franchise takes one at some point during this year’s draft.
Last season was the first since 2010 that the Lions did not take a linebacker, in part because the team had a bunch of capable linebackers coming back. This season, however, the Lions need to fill in some linebacker holes, both in terms of numbers and talent.
There’s also a decent chance it happens since New England, where new general manager Bob Quinn comes from, took a linebacker almost every season he was with the organization.
With that in mind, here are some linebackers to pay attention to next week in Indianapolis:
Reggie Ragland, Alabama (6-foot-1, 259 pounds): If he’s around at No. 16, he’s a player the Lions should consider. He has great size and should be very good against the run early in his pro career. He could be a good replacement immediately if the Lions move on from Stephen Tulloch and Tahir Whitehead. Ragland had 222 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes defended and four sacks with the Crimson Tide.
Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame (6-foot-3, 229): The only reason he might be around at No. 16 is because of the torn ACL he suffered against Ohio State in January. Provided his medicals check out, he’ll be a premier prospect and someone who would offer position flexibility at both inside and outside linebacker. Strong in coverage and intelligent. His brother is Dallas running back Rod Smith. He had 293 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 11 passes defended and 4.5 sacks in three seasons. The biggest concern about him will be his recovery time from the knee injury.
Scooby Wright III, Arizona (6-foot-1, 246): He was one of the best linebackers in America in 2014, winning the Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Bednarik Award. He had 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2014. Knee and foot injuries in 2015 limited him to three games, where he had 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He returned for Arizona’s bowl game, but his medical evaluation at the combine will be important. If he’s available in the second or third round and the Lions go to another position early in the draft, he could be enticing.
Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia (6-foot-1, 241): Had 303 career tackles and 28 tackles for loss. If the Lions choose to address other needs early and pick up a linebacker in free agency, he could be a third-day pickup that would be intriguing because of production and good tackling.