Bengals need improved 2021 linebacker production

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 13: (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 13: (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images) /

Improved linebacker play will be critical for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021. Cincinnati drafted three LBs in 2020. Logan Wilson from Wyoming in the second round, Akeem Davis-Gaither out of Appalachian State in the third round and Markus Bailey of Purdue in the seventh round were drafted by Cincinnati in 2020.

The Bengals often started four defensive linemen, two LBs and five defensive backs in 2020. Josh Bynes and Germaine Platt played most of the snaps for Cincinnati at LB in 2020. Bynes was third on the Bengals with 99 tackles and added five tackles for loss. Pratt was fourth with 88 tackles and equaled Bynes’ five TFL’s.

Bynes was signed as a free agent from division rival Baltimore during the 2020 offseason to a one-year contract. Bynes remains a free agent. With an extremely young LB corps, bringing back Bynes as a mentor would be a good move for the Bengals in 2021. Platt showed promise but needs to continue developing.

Earlier this year, Pro Football Focus examined the Bengals LBs as part of the free agency and NFL Draft preview for Cincinnati. Despite making some big moves in free agency last month, particularly on defense, the Bengals did not sign any LBs. It is possible the Bengals draft a LB later this month.

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"Should Cincinnati feel comfortable with their group of young linebackers?The linebacker position remains relatively inexperienced with Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt and Akeem Davis-Gaither all under 25 years old. Cincinnati could look to add some competition to that group from outside or bring back 2020 snap leader Josh Bynes (52.6 PFF grade last season).It’s hard to feel great about the linebacker position as things stand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for the Bengals to continue to pour resources into the position. We’re only one year removed from Cincinnati spending three draft picks on linebackers, after all.Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither both played at roughly the level of a replacement level player last season — Wilson earned 0.04 PFF WAR with Davis-Gaither sitting at -0.01 — but both are at least deserving of a look with increased playing time in 2021.Even Germaine Pratt showed signs of improvement in coverage (64.2 coverage grade in 2020), though a 29.3 run-defense grade offset that jump. The Bengals can use the 2021 season to see what they have in those younger players while spending the majority of their resources this offseason improving at more valuable positions.It just doesn’t make a ton of sense to go heavy at linebacker — a position the NFL is moving away from with more nickel and dime defenses — in back-to-back offseasons."

Cincinnati heeded the suggestions at LB by PFF. The signings of defensive end Trey Hendrickson to improve an anemic pass rush in 2020 and cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton were good moves to offset the loss of William Jackson III. The Bengals run defense needs to improve in 2021.

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Cincinnati finished 29th in rushing yards allowed and 31st in yards per attempt in 2020. Teams will continue to march through the Cincinnati defense if they do not plug the holes on defense in 2021. Hendrickson has to lead a better pass rush in 2021 or opposing offenses will be able to pick how they want to move the ball.