2012 NFL Draft Preview, Position-By-Position: Middle Linebackers

Dont'a Hightower (30) of the Alabama Crimson Tide tackles Julian Horton (2) of the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The way NFL teams play offense now the middle linebacker position has been somewhat de-valued. Teams like the New York Giants, in fact, often remove their middle linebacker in favor of an extra defensive back on most passing downs -- relegating the middle 'backer to first down (sometimes) and short yardage situations.

There are only a couple of high-profile middle linebackers in the 2012 NFL Draft class. Let's take a closer look at this group as we continue our SB Nation New York position-by-position draft preivew.

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Top 5 Middle Linebackers [Rated by SI.com]

1. Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Mocking The Draft Scouting Report | SB Nation Video | SI.com Profile
NOTES: Could Kuechly sneak into the top 10?

2. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Mocking The Draft Scouting Report | SB Nation Video | SI.com Profile

3. James-Michael Jones, Nevada
SI.com Profile

4. Najae Goode, West Virginia
SI.com Profile

5. Emmanuel Acho, Texas
SI.com Profile

Local Prospect

Manny Abreu, Rutgers -- Sports Illustrated expects the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Abreu to go undrafted.

Other Players To Watch

Audie Cole, North Carolina State; Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State; Jerry Franklin, Arkansas; Mychal Kendricks, California (listed as an OLB by Sports Illustrated); Bobby Wagner, Utah State (listed as an OLB by Sports Illustrated).

New York Giants

The Giants won the Super Bowl with Chase Blackburn, re-signed late in the season, at middle linebacker. They have been making due with the likes of Blackburn and Jon Goff since Antonio Pierce retired. Some thought has been given to moving veteran weak-side linebacker Michael Boley to the middle. If, however, Hightower were to fall to No. 32 the Giants might just snap him up. Wagner has been connected to the Giants in some mock drafts in the third or fourth round.

New York Jets

The Jets seem more concerned about the outside linebacker position than the middle. Safety, offensive line, wide receiver and running back also seem like bigger priorities than adding another inside linebacker.

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