Aug 30, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Eric Kendricks (6) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Virginia Cavaliers in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
It has been well documented that the Cincinnati Bengals pass rush was ineffective last season. To be exact, Pro Football Focus rated it the fourth worst in franchise history finishing with 20 sacks.
With Free Agency starting on March 10th, and the NFL Draft soon to follow, April 30, Cincinnati has two opportunities to improve in this area. Keep in mind, if Cincinnati finds what they are looking for in free agency, it would likely change the course of its draft plans.
So what if Cincinnati improves its pass rush via free agency? What could Cincinnati’s draft class look like?
Cincinnati Improves Its Pass Rush via Free Agency
Other than improving the pass rush, the Bengals biggest priority must improving be the linebacking corps. Cincinnati’s defense finished 20th in the NFL last season in rush yards per game at 116.3. It also finished 15th in yards per carry with 4.2.
This was in large part due to both Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga being injured for a combined 15 games. Combining these injuries with the fact that defensive tackle Geno Atkins is still trying recover from a 2013 ACL tear meant that the Bengals would most likely struggle.
Between Maualuga’s inconsistent play and Burfict’s injury spells, it may not be a bad idea for the Bengals to select a linebacker in the first round. If anything, this linebacker could either challenge Emmanuel Lamur for a starting job, at least, add some much needed depth to the linebacker position.
Eric Kendricks, Outside Linebacker, UCLA
Draft Grade = 5.78 (Chance to Become a Starter).
The red shirt senior out of UCLA could be a solid fit for Cincinnati. He is known as a solid tackler. His analysis on NFL.com says he diagnoses the run well. At 6’0″, 230 pounds, he may need to add a little more bulk at the professional level, but in a division where running the ball is almost a top priority, it would be good if Cincinnati could bring in a linebacker with a “Downhill Attacking Mindset.” Kendricks also has the ability to play man-to-man coverage in open space. This would help Cincinnati as they have struggled to cover opposing tight ends in recent years.
Denzel Perryman: Inside Linebacker, Miami
Draft Grade = 5.7 (Chance to Become a Starter)
The only thing that would keep the Bengals from selecting him is his height (5’11”). In a division like the AFC North, teams tend to go towards a larger specimen; however, even though Perryman is listed 5’11”, he plays like he is 6’3″. He uses his 244-pound frame to his advantage. He has been nicknamed the “Human Hit Stick” for a reason. He does struggle in the passing game, but scouting departments (per NFL.com) are in love with his attitude.
"“He’s physical and plays angry at the point of attack. He’s the type of guy you like having on your team because he brings toughness to practice. He’s going to lay the wood to ball carriers when he gets a chance but college teams were already finding ways to go after him in the passing game.” — AFC East regional scout“I have a little higher grade on Perryman than I probably should, but we like thumpers and badasses inside and he’s both.” — AFC director of scouting"
Cincinnati Does NOT Improve Its Pass Rush via Free Agency
Malcom Brown, Defensive Tackle, Texas
Draft Grade = 6.12 (Should Become and Instant Starter)
At 6’2″, 320 pounds, Brown is the force Cincinnati could use for the line’s interior. While he is not a defensive end, he does have potential as a pass rusher and could occupy some lanes. Domata Peko has been on a steady decline the past few season, and a lack of defensive line rotation has been identified as the reason for the lack of pass rush.
If Brown is able to demand the attention of opposing offensive lines, it could open some lanes for Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and whoever is going to be manning the other end of the line.
Arik Armstead, Defensive End, Oregon
Draft Grade = 6.25 (Should Become and Instant Starter)
There isn’t a ton of defensive end pass rushers in this draft that seem capable of succeeding at the NFL level. Because of this, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bengals, true to their form, shop in the “Big and Tall” section. Listed at 6’8″, 290 pounds, Armstead is the Michael Johnson-type of defensive end Cincinnati enjoys. The team currently has second-year player Will Clarke out of West Virginia who fits this mold also, but both he and third year player Margus Hunt, out of Southern Methodist, have offered little evidence that either of them can control the line.
**All Draft Grades per NFL.com