After missing the 2016 season, William Jackson III and Andrew Billings now have a chance to prove what they’ve got. The Bengals may need them to.
As the Cincinnati Bengals prepared for the 2016 season, a litany of injuries sideswiped the offensive and defensive schemes. Already dealing with injuries to TE’s Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft, as well as CB Darqueze Dennard, lightning struck a fourth and fifth time as draft picks William Jackson III and Andrew Billings were shelved for the year.
With the first and fourth round selections out, the injuries proved to be an early omen to a disappointing Bengals 2016 performance. As the dust clears from a disheartening campaign, a small silver lining can be found. The treasure is the two promising picks turned IR red shirts heading into the 2017 offseason healthy.
William Jackson III
In a draft culture of scout gawking physicals, William Jackson III toed the line. Will’s strong combine served as the conduit for a swift draft stock rise, but the strengths the Houston Cougar product really brings aren’t found in a drool covered stopwatch. With a 4.34 40 time, Jackson III is certainly no slouch on speed. It’s his vision that separates him from the pack.
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Jackson’s college career demonstrated the 24-year-old has a tremendous ability to read the eyes of the QB. He also gauges the body language of the receiver as the ball is in flight. Jackson possesses the skills to readjust his body two to three times mid-route. He keeps his head on a swivel and makes remarkable plays on throws. If the receiver comes down with the ball, or an unsuspecting RB hits the second level, Jackson will still make the play.
A strength in 2016, the Bengals secondary heads into 2017 with more questions than answers. As Pacman Jones tangles with legality and Dre Kirkpatrick looks to get paid, a healthy Jackson III might be thrust into prominence sooner than later. Assuming a physically lost rookie season was successfully spent on his mental game, a full offseason touching up his physicality should result favorably for the pass defense.
One of the simplest ways to measure the quality of a defensive lineman is their strength. Showcasing an ability to push the line backward is a fundamental goal of any NFL team. The easiest way to achieve that goal is overpowering, physical force. Bengals DT Andrew Billings formerly held the Texas prep record for powerlifting.
With a strong second-round grade, Billings sat until the Bengals snagged him with the 122nd pick in the fourth. While his stock dropped due to questions surrounding his ability to demonstrate explosiveness for the full play, things should pay off. Cincinnati selected one of the biggest draft steals and was rewarded with a newly added chip on his shoulders. As one of the youngest players in the NFL–facing early injury adversity–the extra motivation has not gone to waste.
Despite the negatives surrounding his drive and below average height, Billings’ superhuman strength provides the Bengals with a unique interior. Billings can eat double teams, fill running lanes and shift running backs toward hungry linebackers in waiting. Pairing him with All-Pro monster Geno Atkins has the potential for a frighteningly effective middle core of the front seven.
Domata Peko’s contract is now up and the future of the aging interior tuft of hair remains in limbo. Should the Bengals part ways, Billings will become a key cog for the defensive line. After a full season of mentoring from Atkins, as well as DE Carlos Dunlap, Billings can shed any negative perceptions and make strong contributions to the run defense.
With so much offseason uncertainty, the bat signal seems to be shining full strength above Paul Brown Stadium. For William Jackson III and Andrew Billings, it’s time to put on their capes. Exactly how the two unproven talents will perform remains to be seen, but as the unrelenting slew of questions attack Marvin Lewis at every turn, one thing is certain…the man can develop raw, defensive ability.