The Cincinnati Bengals have been connected to a variety of linebackers in the 2020 NFL draft. Pro Football Focus has seemed to narrow in on Willie Gay Jr. in particular.
It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals plan on selecting at least one, if not more, linebackers to help bolster the unit in 2020 and beyond. After all, the team only wields two starting-caliber players at the position in Germaine Pratt and free-agent acquisition, Josh Bynes.
If Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray falls to their second-round pick, the front office will likely scoop one of them up. That’s a big if, however. Outside of those two names, as well as Isaiah Simmons, who will almost assuredly be a top-10 pick, there seems to be a significant dropoff in linebacker talent.
In a recent article that details best-case draft scenarios for each franchise, the well-respected network had this to say,
"“…the Bengals should go all-in on Willie Gay at pick No. 65. Gay may have off-the-field issues, but what he has done when on the field is remarkable. On his 293 career coverage snaps at Mississippi State, Gay produced a 93.9 coverage grade…”"
In today’s game, whenever analysts bring up the linebacker position, it seems the first thing that’s brought to the forefront is a respective prospect’s ability in coverage. With the way NFL offenses are designed and the ability of many quarterbacks to extend plays, defenses simply must have linebackers who can hold their own in the passing game.
This aspect has been a weakness for the Bengals for years and as risky as it may seem, picking Willie Gay Jr. may give them their best shot at solving the problem that’s plagued them for years. If they ever want to compete against top-flight teams like the Chiefs or 49ers and their uber-athletic tight-ends, the may have to take the gamble.
If that weren’t enough, PFF has the Bengals taking the Mississippi State linebacker with their second-round selection in their latest three-round mock draft saying,
"This might seem high, but talent-wise, it’s probably still a steal. Gay has a career coverage grade over 90.0 and blew up the Combine. The Bengals’ need at linebacker is an obvious one."
Now, if the Bengals decide to follow this advice, they should almost certainly trade back from pick 33 and acquire an extra third or fourth-round pick in the process. In doing so, they can gamble on the extreme talent of Gay Jr. while also opening themselves up to snagging an offensive lineman and capitalize on the deep wide receiver class earlier in the draft.
The experts at PFF aren’t the first ones to suggest that the Bengals should take a good look at the talented 22-year-old. In an interview with The Draft Network‘s Trevor Sikkema, he mentioned the athletic playmaker as the next-in-line behind the consensus big three at linebacker in this year’s prospect pool.
With the obvious need at linebacker and several analyst’s opinions on Willie Gay Jr., it wouldn’t be a surprise if the front office is at least having serious conversations about getting the Mississippi native in stripes.
It would certainly be a risk given his off-field concerns, but he would instantly become the most talented linebacker the Bengals have had in quite some time. His potential in coverage gives the defense the ability to fix one of their biggest weaknesses and his insane athleticism would help Lou Anarumo combat divisional rivals, especially the Baltimore Ravens.
The answer as to whether Duke Tobin and company have come to the same conclusions about Willie Gay Jr. should come in under two weeks.