2015 NFL Draft: Bengals Must Consider Selecting Linebacker Early

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November 22, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins linebacker Eric Kendricks (6) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Southern California Trojans during the first half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Much to the chagrin of many fans, I have to admit I generally agree with the Bengals’ approach towards acclimating rookies to the NFL. Essentially “redshirting” them for the year is something I find to be prudent for both the player and the team.  

“I hope he doesn’t have to but I know in the future he will” – Marvin Lewis on this year’s first round selection

It allows the player to better prepare for his NFL career, which hopefully ensures long-term success once he hits the field.  For the team, it further ensures that their investments pay off.  I view it like going to school for a year prior to beginning a job.

But this doesn’t mean that a player can’t find success from the start, much like those who choose to forego college in favor of starting a career; it doesn’t meant this choice equates to failure.  Starting a rookie from day one can easily lead to both immediate and long-term success.

For this season in particular, the Bengals head into 2015 with very few immediate needs.  They’ve addressed their defensive line by adding former star Michael Johnson, and former defensive tackle, and run-stopping specialist Pat Sims.  They also improved their linebacking core by bringing in Cincinnati area native A.J. Hawk.  Yet even after adding Hawk, the linebacker position may be the one position, which offers the potential for a rookie to step in and start from day one.

With the title window closing for both the current roster’s core group of players and Marvin Lewis, now more than ever may be the time to select a starting caliber linebacker who can make an immediate impact on this defense.  More than this, 2015’s linebacker class isn’t terribly deep with players who can star at the next level or players who could start from day one.  This means the players who can will likely be gone early in the draft and certainly by the time the Bengals are “on the clock” in the third round, maybe even when selecting in the second round.  I’m not advocating for the Bengals to “reach” for a linebacker, but rather that they prioritize a linebacker if one is available and graded out well compared to other available players.

The difficultly for the Bengals will be trying to balance talent and promise versus value.  There is only one linebacker who would warrant the Bengals utilizing their first round selection on him: Eric Kendricks.  After Kendricks, there’s players such as Stephone Anthony, Shaq Thompson, and Benardrick McKinney, but the Bengals would be “reaching” for any of those players in the first, and they won’t likely be available at 53 (the Bengals’ second round selection).

The early rounds of this year’s draft should put the Bengals in a difficult position.  With the window closing on this roster and possibly Marvin Lewis’ tenure in Cincinnati, urgency should permeate throughout the organization in 2015.  Yet, the availability of linebackers early in the draft while the team avoids reaching for a player could put the Bengals in a difficult situation.

Cincinnati typically avoids selecting linebackers in the draft’s early rounds due to their defensive philosophy.  It makes drafting a linebacker early or the all unrealistic this year.  This while “reaching” for a player simply isn’t a good idea.  But if one of these aforementioned prospects were available when it would be appropriate to select them, the Bengals would do well to prioritize their selection before other positions.  It could be “now or never” for this team in 2015; Cincinnati should draft like it already is.

Next: Bengals Must Find Answer at Middle Linebacker

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