Paul Dawson Could Start for the Bengals


Sep 13, 2014; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (47) celebrates after recovering a fumble in the second quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

He’s a player that has slowly risen up draft boards as pundits have gotten over the concern he presents.  I’ve even gone back and forth regarding whether or not investing in a linebacker high in the draft is the right move.  But TCU’s Paul Dawson is not only the right selection for the Bengals, but he could also start for Cincinnati in short order.

The Bengals are in need of a linebacker during this year’s draft.  Cincinnati doesn’t typically invest in linebackers during the early rounds of the draft, and though this may be the case this year also, the team should rethink this approach.

The way I see it, the Bengals’ defense is the unit that must lead Cincinnati both to the playoffs and will be the unit that will decide whether they get over their playoff woes or not.  As loaded as the offense is, and as potent as it can be, until Andy Dalton proves he can play on the big stage, the offense will be one-dimensional trying to run the ball.  The opposition will stack the box and attempt to force Dalton to make plays.  The Bengals will attempt to employ quick passes asking the offensive weapons to create yards rather than ask Dalton to launch the ball downfield for fear of turning it over.  The point is, the offense will be limited and likely predictable.

The defense is the unit that must take the reigns and carry this team forward.  This was evident in year’s past despite the struggle of the unit during Paul Guenther’s first year as its coordinator.  The Bengals seem to know this also and are taking the necessary steps to ensure this unit’s return to its once dominant form. This offseason they’ve prioritized the defense and have improved it undeniably.

Michael Johnson‘s return to the line is huge.  Although he struggled last year due to injury and a new system, there’s little reason to believe he can’t reclaim the solid form he had while manning the right side of Cincinnati’s line.  He gives the team a true right defensive end once more and will anchor the rush defense from that side as he did in year’s past.  More than that, he will allow Wallace Gilberry to return to a reserve role where he proved to be more productive.

The team also invested in Pat Sims who should upgrade the rush defense in a big way considering how Domata Peko has struggled in recent years.  Peko may even prove to be more effective when taking less snaps, as he’ll remain more energized throughout the year.

The Bengals also boast one of the league’s best secondaries.  Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are one’s of the league’s most underrated safety duos often coming up with big plays and big hits.  The intelligence they show in the deep part of the field ensures the secondary is aligned well and the defense doesn’t often give up big plays.

Meanwhile the team also has invested heavily in cornerbacks over recent years by drafting Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard.  With both players likely ready to make an impact and while the team still has Leon Hall and Adam Jones ready to contribute, the secondary is ready to go, though the Bengals will likely add another player or two in the draft to ensure it’s depth.

This brings us to the point of Paul Dawson and investing in the linebacking unit.  The team did bring in veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk this offseason, which should add leadership and depth to the unit, and will be especially important if Vontaze Burfict is ready by the start of the season.  But the Bengals need another dominant player in the middle of the field, and one who represents the future.  Paul Dawson is that guy.

Vontaze Burfict may not be ready for the start of 2015. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Dawson is a lot like Vontaze Burfict.  Neither will impress you within a combine setting, but this is of little importance after watching their tape.  Both players possess elite instincts and fit the Bengals’ system perfectly.  Playing behind a large and dominant defensive line allows them to act on their instincts and make plays all over the field.

The criticism around each is the concern regarding their ability to play in coverage.  Although neither possesses the combine speed and athleticism to do so, its their instincts and play recognition that makes up for any concern regarding athleticism.

I focus on the comparison between Burfict and Dawson for this reason, because Burfict’s future remains undetermined to this point.  Microfracture surgery is serious, and though his surgeon expressed optimism, there’s no guarantee Burfict will return on time for this season, nor as the player he once was.  Investing in Paul Dawson makes sense regardless of what happens to Burfict.

The duo of Paul Dawson and Vontaze Burfict would give the Bengals two playmaking tacklers in the middle of the field.  They’d give the team elite leadership and wisdom given their knowledge and understanding of the game.  And they’d give Cincinnati the attitude that great teams have.

If Burfict’s health keeps him from the field either in the short or long term, this is a huge issue for the defense.  We all saw how disorganized the defense looked without Burfict last year, and how it hurt the unit overall.  If Burfict is out, having a player who is a lot like him should help ameliorate that situation.

Regardless of Burfict’s status going forward, Paul Dawson is a great investment for the linebacking core and defensive unit overall.

Adding Paul Dawson would allow the Bengals to start Dawson, Burfict, and either Emmanuel Lamur or Rey Maualuga depending on if it’s a passing or running situation.  In the nickel set, I believe the team could use both Dawson and Burfict.  This is especially important as the Bengals employ the nickel set primarily.

Having two playmakers in the middle of the field is the one area where this defense lacks.  Forget the concerns regarding Dawson, instincts and Marvin Lewis‘ ability to shape great linebackers will address those issues.  Paul Dawson is the prospect who can start for the Bengals right away and could help return the defense to its once dominant form.

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