The Cincinnati Bengals have spent a lot of time over the course of the past couple of seasons acquiring talent at the linebacker position, though in their 4-3 some of those players end up moving to the edge on the line. Nevertheless, the point is that they have been making the investment. It’s probably about time that it all starts coming to fruition.
They made a bigger impact than usual this year, signing Preston Brown in free agency, who will be a starter and potentially somebody that they would like to see stay in Cincinnati for years to come—a departure from last year’s free agent, Kevin Minter, who lasted just one season.
Following Brown, the Bengals double dipped in the draft, adding Sam Hubbard to play along the line and Malik Jefferson, who may well compete at the very least for a temporary starting role while Vontaze Burfict serves a four-game suspension to start the season.
Add in a trio of encouraging second-year linebackers in edge rusher Carl Lawson, plus Jordan Willis and Hardy Nickerson—yes, that Hardy Nickerson’s son—and then third-year player Nick Vigil, and you quickly see how much has changed in this area for Cincinnati in such a relatively short amount of time.
Sure, Burfict and Vincent Rey are still there, but generally speaking this is an awfully young group, the free agent Brown necessarily being one of the older players.
The Bengals will have their hands full just trying to find rosters spots for everybody, let alone snaps. I didn’t even get around to mentioning Chris Worley, either, a promising undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, who is was Hubbard’s teammate.
The Pittsburgh Steelers would be envious of Cincinnati’s talent. I know four of the names I’ve written above were players I had on my radar for Pittsburgh over the course of the past two drafts, even mocking Lawson to them in the second round in 2017 (of course he ended up being drafted in the fourth round, but he still would have been a great pick in round three).
While I obviously don’t want to see the Bengals have success, or at least success that would be to the detriment of the Steelers, I do think they have a lot of good young talent at the linebacker/edge rusher positions, and made up of players I’m looking forward to following over the course of their careers.
Of course I really liked Andrew Billings coming out and we’re still waiting on him taking over a starting job full-time, though he did miss his rookie season due to injury, and it looks like he may have that starting job this year. William Jackson III has certainly looked the part so far as well.