A Colts Position of Need: Linebacker

The Indianapolis Colts are in need of a lot in next year’s draft. Overall, the Colts need help on the defensive side of the ball along with help on the offensive line. One position of need is at the linebacker spot.

Erik Walden leads the team with eight sacks and Robert Mathis follows him with only three. Both of those players are free agents at the end of the season. Other free agent linebackers include Trent Cole, Akeem Ayers, and Chris Carter. Yes, the Colts can sign free agents, but let’s take a look at possible options the Colts could draft when it comes time.

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

Odds are, you have probably heard of this guy. The Heisman candidate can play almost anywhere on the field, although he is listed as an LB/DB on the team’s website. Peppers is not the prototypical linebacker weighing in at only 205 pounds and a height of 6’1″. He’s not letting his size limit him one bit this year, with 59 total tackles this year alone. One of the reasons he is a top prospect is because of his versatility. Peppers most appropriately fits the role of a nickel linebacker due to the ability to cover tight ends better than the slot receiver. Along with defense, he can also return kicks and punts on special teams.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) in action during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeat the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Barnett, Tennessee

The junior Volunteer is more of an edge rusher but is most definitely capable of being a 3-4 OLB. He knows how to get to the quarterback, as he has 11 sacks totaling up to 73 lost yards. He also has 9 hits on the QB this year.

Barnett has 189 tackles through his first three years of college which is 63 total tackles per year on average. Aside from being a good defender, Barnett has many areas to improve on. He needs to add strength and also improve on his pass rush moves. He relies on his speed too much, which needs to be added onto to be successful in the NFL.

Reuben Foster, Alabama

Arguably the most complete linebacker in the nation, Reuben Foster has excellent agility and power alongside the ability to drop back in coverage. He has 75 total tackles this season, 40 of which are solo and 9 of them are for a loss of yards. Many see Foster as a second round pick, but others can see him as a late first rounder. With above average speed for a linebacker, he needs to improve on his ability to drop back in coverage although he is not too shabby at that as of now.

Nov 26, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) celebrates after a fumble recovery during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt

According to Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, Zach Cunningham is the “best linebacker you haven’t heard of”.

A phenomenal run defender, Cunningham has an excellent ability to shed blocks and make tackles.

One noticeable thing is his speed and athleticism. He is very good at playing in zone coverages. Going unblocked, Cunningham can kick it in to high gear to go attack the ball when in flight or to take down the ball carrier. On the negative side, Cunningham often tackles too high and whiffs on fairly simple tackles every once in a while. Overall, he is a very, very talented defender with above average athleticism.

Conclusion

There is a plethora of talented linebackers in this years draft. With current, key linebackers on the Colts roster in contract years, it is imperative to acquire a linebacker in the draft or free agency. I would prefer the Colts to draft a young linebacker rather than sign a veteran through free agency.

My personal favorite out of the ones listed is Zach Cunningham. A underrated linebacker from Vanderbilt, I like his athleticism as well as his ability to shed blocks and make tackles. The Colts have had a lot of missed tackles this season, which has been crucial in some games.

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