There wasn’t a whole lot of buzz when Thomas Howard came to the Bengals from Oakland on a modest two-year, $6.5 million contract in 2011. Most expected him to be one of the team’s primary backups with Keith Rivers manning the starting weakside linebacker spot, which was Howard’s primary position. However, a wrist injury sidelined Rivers for the entire 2011 campaign and Howard was thrust into the starting lineup, and he thrived under Mike Zimmer as the Bengals sported the 7th-ranked defense with Howard as their leading tackler.
Howard was Mr. consistency last year, as he played 1058 defensive snaps and graded out amongst the top-30 4-3 OLBs, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also one of only four Bengals to have 1000 snaps on defense, and was the only one to get a positive grade (+2.4).
Howard finished with a team-high 99 tackles(64 solo), along with 2 forced fumbles, while not missing a single game. Howard also has only 9 missed tackles in 2017 defensive snaps over the past three seasons with the Bengals and Raiders, making him the 9th-most efficient tackler over that span according to PFF. He wraps up well and is a solid run-defender, while his pass-coverage isn’t his greatest strength, but he’s not a liability either.
He’ll make only $2.4 million this season in a contract year, so its unlikely his play will fall off any this year, barring injury. Head Coach Marvin Lewis loves Howard and considers him “one of the most athletic linebackers he’s ever coached.” That’s high praise coming from a man whose coached Ray Lewis. Howard isn’t the flashiest player or the hardest hitter. He’s just a good, consistent football player who is a cog on a Bengals defense expected to carry the team this year.