The Cleveland Browns announced the release of longtime inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on Tuesday, creating a significant hole in the linebacker corps to be filled. The Browns who were already in need of an upgrade at the inside linebacker position, now must look to free agency or the NFL draft to address the concern. There is currently no one on the Browns roster heading into the new league year (March 11) that can fill the void left by Jackson, and the other starting inside linebacker Craig Robertson was constantly bullied by opposing Quarterbacks. The best option for the Browns would be to re-sign D’Qwell Jackson under a restructured deal that doesn’t pay him $10 million a year, even though Jackson is worth it via productivity its hard to justify that much cap dedicated to a player who has had injury problems in the past and who will turn 31 this year. The Browns in my opinion will address the offense in the draft via the first two rounds. That leaves the Browns to take a look at free agent inside linebackers and Mid-round college prospects.
Free Agent Inside Linebackers (ILBs) :
1. Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers
Donald Butler is a solid, young inside linebacker who shinned down the stretch for the Chargers in their playoff run. Butler is viewed as a linebacker who can play all three downs, is good against the run, and served as co-captain of the Chargers defense.
2. Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots
Brandon Spikes is viewed a stout run stopping linebacker, who lacks in coverage. Issues down the stretch with a nagging knee injury lead to him being placed on injured reserve before the divisional playoff round.
3. Vincent (Vinny) Rey, Cincinnati Bengals (RFA)
Vinny Rey took on a bigger role with the Bengals defense after Rey Maualuga got injured in the middle of the season. During the 3.5 game stint Vinny Rey showed flashes of brilliance with 30 tackles, three sacks, and one interception.
4. Arthur Moats, Buffalo Bills
Arthur Moats is a young Bills linebacker who finished the 2013 campaign on injured reserve due to an ankle injury. Moats connection to new Browns Head coach Mike Pettine, and Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Niel should not be ignored and that makes him an asset to be had due to his understanding of the scheme.
5. Jon Beason, New York Giants
Jon Beason’s is viewed a formidable linebacker against the run, but his ability to cover has been downturned due to persistent injury problems, If Beason can stay healthy, he is a player who can step in to a leadership role in the locker room.
Draft Prospects Inside Linebackers (ILBs):
1. Christian Jones, Florida State , Projected Round 2-3
Tremendous athlete with has fluid footwork who flawlessly flips his hips to blanket tight ends or receivers down the field in coverage. Tall and long, which he uses well in coverage. Plays with excellent range and speed to chase down the action, taking proper angles in pursuit. Flashes the take-on strength to blow past blockers when he uses proper technique. (CBS Sports)
2. Shayne Skov, Stanford, Projected Round 2-3
Ideal size and temperament for the inside linebacker position. Possesses broad shoulders, a trim middle and thick lower-body. Terrific instincts and physicality. A tone-setter in the middle, who frequently made big plays at key moments for the Cardinal. Demonstrated more explosiveness in 2013, in his second season removed from a torn ACL. Explodes through holes in the offensive line to make emphatic tackles in the backfield. One of Skov’s greatest attributes has always been aggression in taking on and shedding blockers in the hole. Displayed greater patience in 2013 when breaking down with ball-carriers in the open field because he has regained his explosive closing ability. This has led to less lunging by Skov and more secure textbook tackling. Voted a team captain. (CBS Sports)
3. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut , Projected Round 2-3
Smallwood, UConn’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, started all 12 games for UConn and led the team with 118 tackles, the second consecutive season in which he finished atop the team rankings. Considering the presence of future Oakland Raiders linebacker Sio Moore for the Huskies, that was no small accomplishment. Smallwood also picked up 9.5 TFL and a team-high four sacks, adding an interception, nine pass breakups and a pair of forced fumbles to an all-around dominant season. Although he left after his junior season, Smallwood has a very productive resume with 36 starts and 332 total tackles the past three years and is pro-ready. (CBS Sports)
4. Chris Borland, Wisconsin, Projected Round 3-4
Heady, passionate player. Consistently diagnoses action correctly, attacking seams to make plays near the line of scrimmage and showing better than advertised speed and change of direction while dropping into coverage. He is a no-nonsense LB, showing impressive pop and determination to get to the ball. Borland is disciplined in space and is rarely fooled, showing good body positioning and timing in coverage. (CBS Sports)
5. Lamin Barrow, Louisiana State, Projected Round 3-5
Barrow looks the part of a big-time prospect at linebacker. He’s possesses broad shoulders and a tapered frame, long arms and is athletic. Barrow is a better athlete than football player, at this point, as he fails to wrap his arms securely too often. Barrow isn’t the classic hit-lift-drive, violent tackler, but rather he prefers to grab a hold of the ball carrier and wrestle them to the ground. (CBS Sports)