The linebacker position turned out to be a critical part to teams defenses in the 2012 season.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was one of the fortunate players that faced a season-ending injury only to make his return in the Ravens wild-card round 24-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
When most fans and the media that at best Lewis' return was more for his inspirational role; Lewis was all over the field leading the vaunted Ravens defense in tackles with 13, with 1 for a loss and had a defended pass that should have gone for an interception.
Even though Ray Lewis was able to make a recovery and push the Ravens into the Super Bowl; they are still going to have to replace a leader that has been on their team from the beginning.
Here are 10 linebackers that will be available that teams should look at to strengthen up the center of their defenses.
Kevin Minter – Was a finalist for the Butkus award in 2012 as a junior at LSU. Minter had 140 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 5 defended passes his junior season including the Tigers 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win against Clemson.
Jonathan Bostic – Over 4 seasons at Florida, Bostic had 237 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 7 defended passes, and 5 interceptions.
Alec Ogletree – Ogletree was a decorated high school player, winning the Under Armour All-American award in 2009. Here was also named All-American by USA Today and Parade.
During his 3 seasons Georgia, Ogletree had 198 total tackles, 6 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, and 1 interception including the Bulldogs 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Who's Wallet will Ogletree be in come April?
William Compton – Compton has shown he is NFL ready over his 4 seasons at Nebraska. He has 247 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks.
Ramon Buchanan – Buchanan only played in 2 games during the Hurricanes 2012 season due to his second knee injury. Over his career at Miami Buchanan had 116 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 3 defended passes, and 1 interception.
Jarvis Jones – Named Consensus All-American in 2011 and 2012; also named First-team All-SEC in 2011 and 2012. During his junior season at Georgia, Jones had 86 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 defended passes including the Bulldogs 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Alonzo Highsmith – Started all 13 games he played fro the Razorbacks after he transferred from junior college. During his time at Arkansas, Highsmith had 80 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 defended pass, and 1 interception.
Bruce Taylor – During his senior season at Virginia Tech, Taylor had 77 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4 defended passes including the Hokies 13-10 overtime win against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Manti Te'o – Won basically every award that was available for a player at his position. Te'o was also runner-up in Heisman voting in 2012. During his college career at Notre Dame Manti had 437 total tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. According to the numbers Te'o is clearly the best linebacker in the 2013 draft; but is how clear is his ability to make decisions is in question. He definitely needs to show up to the draft so it's clear there is no hoax going on.
Jason Catchings – Catchings could be a steal in the draft. While at Copiah-Lincoln Community College; Catchings had 109 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumbles recovered, 2 defended passes, and 1 interception in 11 games. While at East Central University in 2011 he led the Tigers with 13 tackles for loss, and with 6.5 sacks. He finished second on the team with 71 tackles.