The Cincinnati Bengals don’t usually draft linebackers early in the draft. Aside from Rey Maualuga, who was a second round pick, they feature a lot of later round picks and undrafted free agents. It’s not likely that the team will decide to take a linebacker in the first part of this year’s draft either. Vontaze Burfict is one of the NFL’s top young players, Emmanuel Lemur flashed a ton of ability, and guys like Sean Porter, Jayson Dimanche, and Vincent Rey all figure to fight for playing time. However, none of those guys, aside from Burfict, are set in stone, and if the right player falls in their lap, they might take one of these guys.
1. CJ Mosley: Taking a linebacker in round one would surprise some people, but Mosley was being talked about as a possible top ten pick a few weeks ago, so if he fell to Cincinnati, it could be a “best player available” selection. Quick, instinctive, and smart, Mosley could compete for Maualuga’s starting middle linebacker job right away, which would please many fans.
2. Kyle Van Noy: Van Noy is one of the more versatile linebackers in the entire draft. He can play in any system, at any spot, which may make him attractive to the Bengals. He’s another cerebral player who seems to know where to be at all times. He plays well in coverage and as a pass rusher, and could take over the strong-side spot as early as his rookie season.
3. Yawin Smallwood: Another inside linebacker, Smallwood doesn’t get as much attention as some other prospects, but his raw talent is the equal of any of them. He has all the qualities an NFL team looks for in a middle linebacker. He’ll need a little time to round out and polish his game, but he could be a steal if he makes it to round three.
4. Chris Borland: Borland is an aggressive middle linebacker who could also play the strong-side spot for the Bengals. He’s smart and knows how to bring guys to the ground, often with big hits. He’s not as athletically gifted as some of the other linebackers, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to make the right plays. He’s another potential third round steal.
5. Telvin Smith: Smith is one of the trickier players to project in the draft. His talent is off the charts, but his size, at 6’3″ and 218 lbs, may have teams scratching their head on how to use him. He is a linebacker, but his safety’s size will limit where he fits. He could be a great situational linebacker as well as a stud on special teams, which Bengals coaches love.