Bengals: 3 surprise players who could earn starting roles in 2021
Surprise Bengals Starters – No. 3: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Linebacker
The first sleeper on this list is the most likely starter of the group, second-year linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither. The former Appalachian State star was a favorite among many Bengals’ fans in the lead up to the 2020 draft and he was widely regarded as a steal when he was snagged in the fourth round.
However, Davis-Gaither’s rookie season did not do a good job of inspiring hope about his future chances. With a poor overall grade of 40.7 from Pro Football Focus, the rookie linebacker had a very underwhelming first season.
Despite having a few flash plays, including intercepting a pass from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Davis-Gaither’s rookie season could not be seen as anything other than a disappointment.
So why would Davis-Gaither be a good dark horse candidate to start in 2021? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
First of all, there is a noticeable lack of depth in the Bengals’ linebacker room. Since Josh Bynes was not brought back in free agency, the Bengals’ coaching staff appears to have a lot of confidence in their young players at the position. With 759 snaps in 2020, Bynes was on the field more than any other linebacker on the team and those snaps will have to go somewhere.
Secondly, the assumed starters in front of Davis-Gaither have not earned complete trust either. Since the Bengals usually have five defensive backs on the field, that typically only leaves room for two starters at linebacker, who most expect to be Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt.
While Wilson is probably a lock to start in 2021, Pratt’s spot may be vulnerable. With an overall grade of 41.7 on PFF, Pratt may not have shown the improvement the coaching staff was looking for, giving Davis-Gaither a prime opportunity to steal the starting job.