With news that Curtis Lofton has signed with the Saints, it becomes time to look at the best middle linebacker available. The Bucs will most likely stay put with Mason Foster, but don’t rule out David Hawthorne as a possibility now that Lofton is off the table.
Hawthorne is a former undrafted free agent, which goes to show why we always get it wrong in the draft and overlook future stars. He’s a little underrated, because it’s difficult to find a better playmaker at linebacker. He is as good of a run defender as there is in the NFL, and he is actually better than Lofton at run defense.
The New Orleans Saints desperately needed an MLB like Lofton over the overrated Jonathan Vilma, who struggles mightily against the run and can’t get off of offensive linemen anymore. Both players have their issues in coverage, but David Hawthorne is the more consistent LB against the pass and is one of the best five inside linebackers in the NFL right now in a 4-3 scheme.
Here’s the thing, David Hawthorne isn’t a liability in coverage anymore. Although he didn’t set the world on fire as a run defender like he did in 2010, he was still great in that regard and will continue to devastate opposing blockers and backs alike. However, the biggest thing to take out of his 2011 season was his significant improvement as a cover man. It looks legit, and the 2012 season will fully show if the top middle linebacker has fully grasped his coverage duties.
He has to be the best free agent available right now, and the underrated star linebacker will likely come cheap. Signing him would be a steal at an expected price tag of around $2 million a year, but there is much uncertainty surrounding his free agent status. I haven’t heard him being formally linked to the Buccaneers, but the team should definitely take a look at one of the best run defenders in the game. This guy is an upper-tier player, and slotting him at MLB will greatly improve the second-worst run defense in the NFL. Mason Foster will be a solid player one day, but you ideally want to move him at outside linebacker and have him play there with a stalwart like Hawthorne quarterbacking your defense in the middle.
Signing the elite MLB make sense financially, in terms of upgrading and filling in a need, helping a younger player, and helping the overall production of the team. The Bucs need to take a serious look at the former Seahawks star, because David Hawthorne is a linebacker you cannot afford to overlook. He is easily the best free agent available and is as good of a bargain as their is this offseason, by all accounts so far.
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