Outside deeper than inside at linebacker in NFL Draft
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier in action against Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Photo by Getty Images file
By Alan Robinson| Monday, April 28, 2014, 10:12 p.m.
During a simpler time in baseball, pitchers were starters or relievers. There weren't eight-inning specialists or closers or left-handers called on to retire a single left-handed batter.
It's that way in football now, especially at linebacker. An NFL team doesn't look just for an inside or outside linebacker any longer — it's far more specialized than that. Now, a linebacker might defend the slot receiver, cover a tight end, rush the quarterback or be asked drop a 250-pound running back.
So a team looking for an edge rusher won't take a second look at a linebacker who is effective against the run but lacks the requisite size and speed to match up at the line of scrimmage against tight ends or tackles. Rather, the kind of linebacker every team is looking for is a do-it-all type who is big, fast and strong, capable of pass rushing from the strong side or lining up as a prototypical defensive end.
The player who best fits this description in the 2014 draft class is Khalil Mack, a 6-foot-3, 251-pound outside linebacker from, of all places, Buffalo. Mack might have played in the MAC, but he had some of his best career games against schools such as Ohio State and Baylor.
“It's going to be a transition, but I feel like football-wise I'm ready to step in and make an impact any way I can,” Mack said.
The Steelers need help both inside and outside now that Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley are gone but, despite the overall depth of this draft class, the inside linebacker group is thin and the outside linebacker talent is crowded at the top.
“The draft is deeper at the corner position than it is at outside linebacker,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “If there's someone big that you want at 'backer, you may want to go ahead and get him now.”
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