The Cincinnati Bengals are hosting LSU Arden Key for a visit on Thursday, one day after LSU pro day.
The Cincinnati Bengals continue their search for this year’s draft prospects as they will host LSU edge rusher Arden Key for a visit with the team the day after LSU’s pro day. Last season the team rotated between guys like Michael Johnson, Carl Lawson, and Chris Smith who is now in Cleveland at the defensive end opposite of Carlos Dunlap. With Johnson and Dunlap’s contracts expiring after this season, it might be a good idea for the team to bring in another edge rusher.
Cincinnati would like to extend Dunlap past 2018 and there have been talks of doing so this offseason but with defensive tackle, Geno Atkins needing re-signed as well, will they be able to keep both? Lawson had a breakout season in his limited play time with the Bengals defense in 2017 but the question is whether he is ready to be a full time end? He mostly came in during nickel packages for obvious passing downs as he struggles against the run game. The team has also talked about extending his role into linebacker this season.
Key will visit the Bengals on Thursday, after his pro day on Wednesday, and the team will get to see what their options are if drafting him in the upcoming draft. One of the questions for Key is his personal issues that he had last season possibly being a result of his dropoff season in 2017. He left the program in the spring of 2017 only to later join last summer. The young prospect also had shoulder surgery during his time away from the team.
His best year was in 2016 as a sophomore when he hauled in 12 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 56 tackles and three forced fumbles. Key has proven that he can be a dominant force and able to get into the backfield to make plays but will be hoping that NFL teams will base his draft stock on his 2016 season and not his 2017 season when he fell to 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. While his 2016 season made him look like a first round prospect he could find himself being drafted in the second round based off of the uncertainties of 2017.
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Key is a very interesting prospect for the Bengals because he resembles Lawson in the sense that he is mainly a passing down edge rusher whether that be from the 4-3 end spot or 3-4 linebacker role. He would likely be more effective in a 3-4 system which is not fully out of the question for the Bengals defense in 2018 as they have already made changes with a new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin who was brought in from Detroit.
Under Austin, the team could move Key around like they are planning to do with Lawson as well. Cincinnati could like up in a 3-4 look on passing downs with both Key and Lawson on each side as outside linebackers to bring some extra pressure to the quarterback. They could also use him similar to the role Chris Smith played in 2017.
The 6’6″ and 238-pound edge rusher is extremely slippery getting in between blockers and into the backfield. He has very long arms allowing him to get the first contact with offensive linemen and keeping them away from his body to get a hold of him. One of the issues with his techniques, however, is his lack of ability to shed blockers quickly when they do get their hands on him.
His speed off the snap is a big reason he had success in 2016 as he would gain a quick step on the offensive tackle. He also showed some bend around the edge which is promising as an edge rusher at the next level. It still needs some work but showing that he can bend to get around the tackle and take a quicker route to the quarterback is something NFL coaches are looking for.
Key was also a liability in the run game when engaging with blockers and getting after the running back. Once in the backfield, he was able to run down many running backs and use his long body to grab ahold of ones trying to escape.
LSU moved Key around along their defensive front a lot and I don’t mean just from right to left. He also played along the interior of the line as he was too quick for most interior offensive linemen to handle which could be another scenario the Bengals are looking at. Finding a fast pass rusher next to Atkins along the interior in some packages. He would likely have to put on some weight to be able to move into the interior at the next level.
Key has potential and if the Bengals can develop him over a year he could be a high floor kind of prospect. The issues with drafting him are finding out if his 2017 was just one bad year that he can overcome his personal issues and shoulder injury. He didn’t play with as much heart in 2017 which is something that worries me. They also need to find an edge player that can play better against the run or they are taking a guy too similar to what they already have in Carl Lawson.