The Next Great Ravens Linebacker

USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens always seem to find an unknown player who becomes an excellent linebacker then leaves the team for "greener" pastures.

This has happened over and over through the years and each time the player leaves, the Baltimore Ravens find another guy who steps in and earns that title. In the past we've had Edgerton Hartwell, then Adalius Thomas, then Bart Scott, and most recently, Dannell Ellerbe.

Throw in Jarret Johnson and Paul Kruger, two guys who were drafted but exceeded expectations and then went on to other teams when the Ravens could not or would not be able to afford re-signing them.

Bart Scott and Dannell Ellerbe were unique in that neither was drafted but signed by the Ravens as undrafted free agents. Both did not overly impress from the beginning but quickly proved that the Ravens keep finding the diamonds in the rough of undrafted players, ironically in the linebacker position.

With the loss of Ellerbe to the Miami Dolphins through free agency and the retirement of Ray Lewis, the Ravens have two huge voids to fill in the middle of the second line of their defense. There are questions about the health of Jameel McClain (neck), as well as the abilities of Brendon Ayanbadejo or Josh Bynes to step up and fill that void.

Bringing in a free agent veteran might work, but what else is out there other than an overpriced Karlos Dansby or aging Brian Urlacher? Drafting a rookie and thrusting him into a starting role is a tough task for a first-year player to master, especially with no Ray Lewis to take him under the wings.

However, the Ravens might have the answer on their current roster in the name of Albert McClellan. The third year pro has played both inside and outside, depending where he was needed. In 2012, McClellan covered for Terrell Suggs early in the season and both Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe at inside linebacker later when they were injured.

McClellan' statistics haven't been eye-opening (49 combined tackles, one sack, one forced fumble), but he always seems to be around the ball and knows the Ravens defense as evidenced by his versatility. He is physical and built for the inside position (6'2", 245 pounds).

He is excellent against the run due to that physicality and can rush the passer on the blitz. The jury is still out on his pass coverage skills, as he has not had enough reps in those situations due to the team's depth at switching out players as the play has dictated.

However, even when competing with Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Courtney Upshaw and even Sergio Kindle in last summer's Training Camp and through pre-season, McClellan's name always came up and his performance impressed coaches enough to be confident to stick him in at two very different linebacker positions in the regular season and see the team succeed with him in those roles.

A full-time job at the inside position could very well result in finding the next great Ravens linebacker, which would be the first in the new post-Ray Lewis era.

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