The Cincinnati Bengals are entering the Zac Taylor era, and seem to be in store for a multi-year rebuild. With draft needs on either side of the ball, and potentially even at quarterback, none seem more obvious than the linebacker position. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, it’s a weaker linebacker class. This means that they need to pick their spot right, otherwise they’ll be reaching for the position.
The Bengals linebacker core was already on the weaker side, which prompted them to draft Malik Jefferson in the third round last year. Last month, longtime starter Vontaze Burfict was released by the team.
While Cincinnati extended hometown hero Preston Brown this off-season, he’s coming off of a knee injury that he suffered mid-season, while playing with a hurt ankle.
Both Jordan Evans and Nick Vigil struggled last season, and are nothing more than players with average starter potential. Cincinnati will be looking to upgrade both spots, making a double-dip at the position a real possibility.
With the 11th pick, it’s seemingly becoming likely that LSU’s Devin White won’t be available for Cincinnati. All signs are pointing to Tampa Bay being interested in White with the 5th overall pick, a long way away from the Bengals.
1. Devin Bush, Michigan
While the Bengals are likely to miss out on Devin White, Devin Bush should be the second linebacker off of the board. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Bush tested and measured comparably to White. He’s a physical presence in the middle of the defense, who plays with natural leverage and violence in his upper body. Bush projects well for the modern NFL because he’s effective sideline to sideline and in his zone coverage drops.
Bush has the potential to play all three linebacker positions and is an instant every down player. He would fit from a need and value perspective at the 11th overall pick.
2. Mack Wilson, Alabama
With multiple draft needs, it’s possible that Cincinnati looks elsewhere with their first round pick. On top of that, it’s possible that the weak linebacker class pushes both White and Bush into the top 10. If Cincinnati is looking to their second round pick to fill their need at linebacker, Mack Wilson is the prime option.
After declaring early for the NFL Draft, Wilson is a potential top 50 selection. Wilson is physical, but can get in trouble taking on blocks and dropping his eyes. Another linebacker who projects well in his coverage ability and high motor, he could be an immediate contributor with upside.
3. Blake Cashman, Minnesota
Blake Cashman was the star of the NFL Combine, showing off excellent speed, explosiveness and agility. Cashman isn’t just a workout warrior, as his film shows a sound tackler who has outstanding range. Cashman doesn’t show many weaknesses, as he has a complete game with his pass coverage, blitzing and mental processing.
For a front-7 that lacks talent in multiple spots, Cashman could step in right away while filling different roles with his versatility. He could be an option for the Bengals with their second or third round pick.