1. Blake Martinez
Martinez is so far ahead of every other player at the position that it’s scarecly worth “predicting” he’ll be No. 1. He’s the top guy and he proved his metal after securing 144 tackles and an interception in 2017. He’s tough, smart, and reliable in the middle of the field. So long as he’s healthy the team is in good shape at the position. Any injury to Martinez and the team will undoubtedly have to sign a veteran or risk getting crushed over the middle week in and week out. On the plus side, at just 24 years old and entering his third season, Martinez has more than a little room to improve as he becomes one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL.
2. Oren Burks
Far below Martinez but still clearly better than the rest of the competition, Burks joins the team as a relatively high draft pick. The third-rounder out of Vanderbilt is small for the position’s size historically, but he’s a prototypical inside linebacker in the modern game. Standing at 6-foot-3, weighing in at 233 pounds, and running a 4.59 yard 40-yard dash, he’s a height-weight-speed dream. If he can absorb the content of Mike Pettine’s defense and not allow his newness to slow him down, he could be a quality player from day one. The ifs are the cause for concern. If he doesn’t play at least somewhat close to his potential the team could be in trouble. Look for him to get a good chunk of preseason snaps with the microphone in his helmet so he can call out the defense. If he shines these next four games we’ll have reason to be hopeful for his play in the regular season.
3. Greer Martini
This is where things start to get hazy. No other inside linebacker on the team was drafted or has much of any NFL experience. Martini has the most hype among them. He’s roughly the same height and weight of Burks but he ran just a 4.81 40-yard dash. His speed didn’t cost him much at the college level, where he was able to record 77 tackles, two forced fumbles, and an interception as a senior in 2017. He’ll need to adapt quickly to the NFL game and play smart if he’s going to make up for where he lacks athletically.
4. Ahmad Thomas
Thomas is an interesting prospect in that he played cornerback and safety in college. His last two seasons saw him combine for 94 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, and 5 passes defensed, including 3 interceptions. He currently stands at 6-foot, 220 pounds, making him another slight player at the position. He was a bit slow for a safety but his 4.68 40-yard dash is workable for a linebacker. He needs to adapt to the new position, which he was unable to do effectively enough as an undrafted rookie a year ago. Barring the team makes any additions he’ll have a great chance to make it as a backup.
5. Marcus Porter
This is where things get dicey as far as making the 53-man roster. Thomas and Martini are no guarantees, but Porter seems to be a stretch. He’s got the size and speed for the position (6-foot, 230 pounds, 4.68 40-yard dash), but he’s coming out of a small school, Fairmont State. He went undrafted this year and will have to dramatically ratchet up his game in a hurry if he’s to make the final roster. He’ll be a player to keep an eye on in preseason, since he’ll surely need to impress in games if he’s going to have a fighting chance.
6. Naashon Hughes
The biggest of the group, Hughes comes in at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. His speed isn’t great (4.77 seconds), but it’s workable, especially at his size. He wasn’t prolific at Texas as a senior in 2017, recording just 30 tackles, including 2.0 sacks. His ability to cover the pass in the NFL seems questionable at best, though he could be a thumper in the run game if he uses his size to his advantage. Like Porter, Thomas, and Martini, he’ll be looking to impress with every game rep he gets the next few weeks.