The Cincinnati Bengals have strong candidates for both the offensive and defensive rookie of the year awards heading into the 2020 season.
Unsurprisingly, Joe Burrow leads the pack when it comes to the odds of winning offensive rookie of the year. That’s generally the case with first overall picks who are reigning Heisman Trophy winners. While all the attention is on the Cincinnati Bengals’ new man under center though, it’s being overlooked that the team wields two strong candidates for the best first-year player on the other side of the ball.
Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither could both join Burrow in bringing some hardware back to the Queen City. The pair of linebackers are darkhorse contenders, in part because they reign from small colleges and lack the name recognition of some of the other defenders from their draft class. When it comes to play in the NFL though, where a prospect spent their collegiate career means little.
Logan Wilson’s case
It’s not only Wilson’s talent that gives him a shot at defensive rookie of the year but also the situation he’s being placed in. As things stand, there are only two linebackers, Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt, clearly above him on the depth chart. How many first-year players can say something like that before taking a snap in training camp?
Furthermore, the former Wyoming linebacker has a skill set that will allow him to remain on the field during passing situations, giving him additional opportunities to make plays.
While the focus of his play will be to help the Bengals defend the air attack, he can get it done in the run game as well. Over the course of his career, he racked up 249 tackles, with 34.5 of them being for a loss.
Between the depth chart standing, the opportunities he’ll get right away, and his ability to stuff the stat sheet, he has a chance to make a push for the honorable award.
Akeem Davis-Gaither’s potential
In a surprising turn of events, Davis-Gaither was listed as having the ninth-best odds to win defensive rookie of the year, according to Action Network. He garnered the attention over his new teammate Wilson, despite being drafted a round later.
Perhaps his versatility is what has outsiders so optimistic about the prospect of his rookie campaign in stripes. The uber-athletic linebacker can get it done in all aspects. Whether it be dropping back in coverage, coming off the edge as a pass rusher, or showing off his range in defending the run, Davis-Gaither is a playmaker.
The spectrum of his skill set will help him find playing time early and often. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will have no other choice but to get him on the field, as his potential to generate turnovers is too much to overlook.
When all is said and done, Davis-Gaither should have a well-rounded resume. He’s sure to rack up some sacks, knock down passes, and help the Bengals win the turnover battle. Not every linebacker will be asked to do so much, which could give him an edge over the competition.
There have only been two instances of one franchise fielding both the offensive and defensive rookie of the year in the same season. The most recent occurrence was in 2017, when Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore were rewarded for their impressive foray into the league. Before that? 1967, when the Detriot Lion’s Mel Farr and Lem Barney earned the pair of trophies.
So, history certainly isn’t on the side for the Bengals to pull off this feat. That doesn’t mean they can’t become the third franchise to accomplish the task at hand, however.
In all likelihood, Burrow will win the offensive award, leaving it up to the duo of defenders to put together a campaign worthy of the defensive honor. Thankfully, the defensive line is looking more capable than ever. The guys in the trenches will occupy opposing offensive linemen, freeing up the Bengals’ young ‘backers to roam freely and make plays.
If all goes according to plan, Cincinnati can shock everyone, winning both offensive and defensive rookie of the year, painting a bright future for the organization that calls Paul Brown Stadium home.