Outside linebacker has taken on increasing importance in the Redskins' defense -- so much so that head coach Mike Shanahan recently called it the Redskins' biggest need this offseason.
"I think it ranks right at the top," Shanahan said. "Obviously when you have any consistent defense, using the 3-4, you've got to have two great outside pass rushers."
The Redskins already have Brian Orakpo, who has 19.5 sacks in just two seasons in the league.
Another pass-rushing threat to complement Orakpo should elevate the Redskins' defense, which struggled to a 31st ranking in overall defense and finished 25th in the NFL with 29 sacks.
In addition to Orakpo, the Redskins have Lorenzo Alexander and Chris Wilson as experienced outside linebackers, but they have a combined 12.5 career sacks. The team released veteran Andre Carter earlier this month.
In terms of free agency, the Redskins could address the position there but first they must wait out the labor situation.
In the NFL Draft, scheduled for April 28-30, outside linebacker is projected to have great depth. At least 12 could be selected in the first three rounds, according to one prominent draft guide.
In the draft, Texas A&M's Von Miller is widely regarded as the top outside linebacker in the draft. He would appear to be a perfect fit for a 3-4.
However, four of the teams ahead of the Redskins on the draft board run a 3-4, and it's expected that Miller will be gone by the time the Redskins pick at No. 10.
Here are some of the top outside linebacker prospects available in the draft:
-- VON MILLER, TEXAS A&M
Miller has developed into a dominant pass rusher, posting 27.5 sacks the last two years. In 2009, he led all of college football with 17 sacks. Last season, he was slowed early on with an ankle injury but overcame it to post 10.5 sacks. He may need to build his frame in the pros – he lists at 6-2 and 237 pounds – but he has shown enough pass-rushing skills to be an impact player.
-- ROBERT QUINN, NORTH CAROLINA
At 6-5 and 270 pounds, Quinn could play either defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4. He dominated in 2009, posting 11 sacks, but he was suspended all last season due to an investigation over receiving improper benefits. NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock says Quinn "might be the most talented player in the draft." One draft guide compared him to Shawne Merrimen.
-- AKEEM AYERS, UCLA
For an outside linebacker, Ayers has a thin frame at 6-3 and 225 pounds and may be a better fit in a 4-3 scheme. He is solid against the run and in coverage, so to adapt to a 3-4 he must develop as a pass rusher. He posted 14 sacks the last three years for the Bruins, but he also had six interceptions and 11 pass-breakups. Ayers has been sliding down some draft boards and may be available in the second round.
-- SAM ACHO, TEXAS
At Texas, the 6-1, 257-pound Acho was overshadowed the last two years by Orakpo and Sergio Kindle. He has emerged as a solid pass-rusher, logging eight sacks each of the last two years for the Longhorns. Even though one draft guide compares him favorably to Orakpo, Acho is still developing as an elite pass rusher. He also classifies as super-smart, winning several student-athlete honors including Academic All-American.
-- JEREMY BEAL, OKLAHOMA
Beal, 6-2 and 268 pounds, has not earned a lot of pre-draft hype, but he has impressive credentials. A three-year starter at defensive end and a team captain for the Sooners, Beal could transition to outside linebacker in the pros. He logged 27 career sacks, second-most in the school's history, and earned Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors last season. Some have compared him to Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher LaMarr Woodley.
-- JUSTIN HOUSTON, GEORGIA
Houston transitioned to outside linebacker from defensive end and his production went way up. The 6-3, 258-pounder produced a career-high 10 sacks last year and logged 20 in three seasons with the Bulldogs. He has been rising up draft boards and could be a second-round steal, but some have questioned his work ethic.