During the offseason, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott tested free agency and signed a six year, $48M deal with the New York Jets. His departure means that the Ravens will have a young linebacker step up? Will it be Tavares Gooden, Antwan Barnes (pictured, #50), Brendon Ayanbadejo or Prescott Burgess. Let's take a look.
Tavares Gooden: When the Ravens drafted Tavares Gooden in 2008 in the third round with the 71st overall pick, Ravens fans were thrilled. Why? The Ravens had drafted another Miami linebacker. That guy Ray Lewis turned out pretty well, if I don't say so myself. "T-Good", 24, stands 6'1", 235 pounds, very similar size to Ray. Gooden is very athletic and can play inside linebacker and rush the passer. The only knock on Gooden is that he's injury prone. In three of his four college seasons, he missed time due to injuries and missed almost all of his rookie campaign. However, there is no doubt that Gooden can play, as he led his Miami defense with 100 tackles as a senior in 2007.
If Tavares can stay healthy, there is no doubt in my mind he can be a great linebacker for the Ravens. Hey, he'd be learning from a Hall of Fame linebacker who also attended "The U". Gooden could be a great linebacker for the Ravens, as the team has a tendency to turn young kids into Pro Bowl linebackers (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, others) and Gooden wouldn't be an exception - if he can stay healthy. Gooden's debut is definitely one of the most awaited for the Ravens. Fans want to see if Gooden is the second coming of Ray Lewis. They want to see what the next linebacker from "The U" plays like; they want to see his hits; his intensity.
Antwan Barnes: While most remember Barnes for his cheapshot hit on Eagles punter Sav Rocca. However, most Ravens fans know Barnes for being a tremendous football player. Barnes, 24, had 14 tackles and one pas deflected in 2008 after a 10 tackle, two sack performance as a rookie in 2007. Barnes has tremendous upside and was tremendous in college. In 2006, he was great rushing the passer for the Florida International University, finishing with 69 tackles, six sacks and one interception. Barnes had 126 tackles and one fumble forced in his three-year career. Despite the unflashy statistics, one could make a strong case that Barnes has more potential than Gooden, Ayanbadejo and Burgess.
Barnes is a very smart player and says he can adapt easily, explaining: "I see myself as a rush backer and both systems can use that, so I don't really prefer one over the other. I'm a player who can get after the QB or drop into the flat and cover a lot of ground. I have no problem playing inside or outside and I can adjust to any defensive scheme." The Ravens will need that because his role could increase incredibly next season. He has learned from Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson for two full seasons, and that has to benefit a 24-year old linebacker from a small school.
Brendon Ayanbadejo: If it's not Jim Leonhard, the biggest steal of the 2007 offseason for the Ravens was special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo. Ayanbadejo is one of the best special teamers in the National Football League, yet has never played for a team longer than three seasons. The Chicago Bears let him test free agency after making the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007 and the Ravens signed him to a four year, $4.9M contract and he immediately payed off on special teams. But could he emerge as Bart Scott's replacement? In certain packages, Ayanbadejo was a good fill-in linebacker, finishing with 19 tackles and one sack. He became a fan favorite and fortunately, will be a Raven through 2011.
Ayanbadejo could of course emerge, but the Ravens might not want to risk Ayanbadejo getting hurt and not being able to contribute on special teams. He has never played a full season as a linebacker, so the Ravens might not want to take that risk. Is he capable? Of course he is. He's a fan favorite and fans, like myself, would like to see more of him, not just the bonecrushing special teams hits. He got ignored by college recruiters, but his mental toughness got him through, as he explained: "I always believed in myself, my brother believed in me, my family believed in me and that's what it took. So, people were always saying no but everybody in my inner circle was always saying yes."
Prescott Burgess: The last potential replacement for Scott is Michigan alum Prescott Burgess. Burgess, 24, was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2007 and had eight tackles as a rookie. He didn't have any tackles last season, but has shown the team in practice he is capable. At Michigan, he finished his three-year career with 156 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. As a senior, he had 48 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and the Ravens drafted him in the sixth round with the 207th overall pick. Burgess is the guy Ravens fans know the least about. He is coming out of Michigan, a school few Ravens players are drafted out of and he hasn't played much.
For that reason, Raven Nation isn't pulling for Burgess - not because they don't like him - because they don't know him. Coming out of Warren High in Ohio, he was the top prospect in the state and picked Michigan over Florida, Ohio State and Tennessee. At Michigan, he obviously had a stellar career which led to a spot on the Ravens football team. Burgess has a small chance - still a chance - but a small one, to crack the starting lineup.
Give T-Good the job. Should he get injured, give it to Barnes. T-Good has the most upside in my mind, only ahead of Barnes. Burgess hasn't proven anything to the team yet and I don't want Ayanbadejo risking injury.