Bengals Must Draft Pass Rushing Linebacker to Improve Defense

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Oct 11, 2014; Lexington, KY, USA; Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks offensive lineman Chase Regian (71) and Kentucky Wildcats defensive end Alvin Dupree (2) during the game at Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky defeated Louisiana-Monroe 48-14. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Although I despise my own sentiment, I believe the Bengals will forego drafting a defensive lineman in the early rounds of the upcoming draft.  If it were up to me, I would love to see the Bengals upgrade the nose tackle position by moving on from veteran defensive tackle Domata Peko and using his spot on a more promising prospect.  I understand the Bengals strategy of standing by their players and allowing them to play out their contracts as it has helped make Cincinnati an appealing place for free agents to consider.  But moving on from underperforming professionals in order to improve can also be respected.

But regardless of my opinion, the fact is the Bengals defensive line looks to be set for the coming season.  If the Bengals aren’t willing to move on from Peko, I can’t imagine them moving on from anyone along the line.  Defensive ends Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt, and Will Clarke are roster locks, as is defensive tackle Geno Atkins.  The versatile Wallace Gilberry is very likely to remain with Cincinnati as his outlook for 2015 looks promising considering he’ll be returning to his more auspicious reserve role.  Then there’s Peko who we just discussed.  This gives us seven players who are likely to be in Cincinnati in 2o15.

The final two players are Brandon Thompson and Pats Sims.  Although Thompson suffered an injury last season, which derailed in 2015 campaign, I believe he’s shown enough promise that the team isn’t going to cut him yet.  As for Sims, the Bengals could move on from him based on the deal he signed, though it would be weird to cut him after just signing him while keeping the less effective Peko.  With seven seemingly roster locks, and possibly nine linemen in play, Cincinnati has little room for another, so selecting another in the early rounds seems unlikely at best.

As for the rest of the defense, the Bengals have invested in their secondary over the past few seasons.  Because of this, they don’t need to select another highly touted defensive back, though this remains a possibility based simply our their penchant for doing so.

This leaves the linebacking unit.  The Bengals have seven potential linebackers who could return to the roster in 2015, yet there is room to upgrade the unit.  Vontaze Burfict is an obvious roster lock (though he could start the year on the I.R. list if he isn’t ready by the start of the season) as is Emmanuel Lamur, Rey Maualuga, and A.J. Hawk.  Due to his special teams contributions and defensive performance over the past couple of seasons, Vincent Rey is highly likely to return in 2015.

This leaves Marquis Flowers and Jayson DiManche.  Flowers offers ability in coverage as a converted safety.  He showed flashes of potential last season and performed well on special teams.  The Bengals have struggled to cover opposing tight ends in the past, so continuing to develop Flowers seems logical for Cincinnati.

Meanwhile, Jayson DiManche has played equally well on special teams, and though he offers potential as a pass rusher evidenced by his collegiate career, he has yet to capitalize on this ability.  This could be due to a lack of ability or due to Marvin Lewis‘ penchant for sticking with his veterans–DiManche did play well when injury struck in 2015–but regardless, his spot seems to be the most at risk in 2015.

The Bengals could use this slot to upgrade the strong side linebacker position with a player who offers more promise.  They could use it on a player who could contribute towards improving the pass rush from day one.  If the Bengals can get over their strategy of avoiding linebackers in the early rounds, Alvin Dupree should demand their attention.

Many pundits believe Dupree is a pure 3-4 outside linebacker who should stick to seeking and destroying opposing quarterbacks. But his athleticism and raw skill set offers the potential to play him at multiple spots.  Dupree doesn’t seem lost in coverage and has the athleticism to play in space.  He may need some time to develop, but this won’t be a problem considering Marvin Lewis, in typical fashion, would prefer his first round selection to learn early on in his career.

Alvin Dupree represents to perfect compromise of two conflicting philosophies.  His pass rushing ability means he could help the Bengals immediately where their defensive lacked the most last year, yet his raw nature means Marvin Lewis would be justified when employing Dupree only on a limited basis.

If the Bengals are going to realistically improve their defense in 2015, they will invest in a pass rushing linebacker.  Considering the investments they made along the line, a high defensive lineman selection seems unlikely.  This same conclusion holds true for the secondary.  The team has long ignored the linebacking core early in drafts due to their defensive philosophy, but after improving both the front line and deep part of the defense, selecting a linebacker early in this year’s draft may be the best approach.

Next: Steven Nelson is A Great Secondary Target for Cincinnati

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