When Super Bowl XVLIII was over, it was Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith who holding the MVP trophy and chanting “I’m going to Disney World!”
Smith had a fumble recovery in addition to 10 tackles on his way to taking home MVP honors. He also had the clinching interception in the Seahawks’ NFC Championship win over the 49ers, giving him three turnovers in the last two games of the season for Seattle.
But could that have been the Cincinnati Bengals and one of their own players celebrating a Super Bowl victory and an MVP trophy?
Perhaps, had Emmanuel Lamur been able to play this year. Projected as a starting linebacker in nickel defense packages, Lamur was the team’s best coverage linebacker and was in for a big season after a promising rookie campaign.
He was going to fill the same role with the Bengals as Smith did with the Seahawks. The second-year Lamur, a 6-4, 240-pound “freak” to his teammates, was a versatile player whom Mike Zimmer was building several packages around him.
Going back to their rookie year using Pro Football Focus’ grading system, Lamur actually had a better grade in his first year (+2.1) in 2012 than Smith did in his first year (-0.3) in ’11, and his grade only slightly rose in ’12 to +1.6.
In 136 snaps during his rookie year, Lamur allowed just seven receptions to players he covered. In 58 snaps, Smith allowed eight receptions during his rookie year, and allowed eight catches in 190 snaps in the following season.
In other words, Lamur was on pace to be as good as Smith, if not better. But a torn shoulder labrum in the final game of the preseason of ’13 cost him the entire season.
This season, Lamur would have often replaced Rey Maualuga on passing downs, who was repeatedly beaten anytime he was thrown at.
The Seahawks defense gets a lot of praise for it’s All-Pro players in Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett, but it’s how well their other players compliment each other’s game that made them so good this year.
Lamur wasn’t going to be an All-Pro or probably even a Pro Bowler, but the skill set he would have brought to the Bengals would have made the AFC’ No.1 defense even better and potentially enough to get past the Chargers in the Wild Card round.
His return next year cannot be overstated, and he’ll be a key piece on a defense that figures to once again finish in the NFL’s top 10.