Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Clay Johnston put himself on the map with his incredible performance against the Giants on Sunday and possibly secured a final roster spot.
Assuming the Bengals roster five linebackers in 2022, Johnston faces steep competition to win that fifth and final spot. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt are the projected starters with Markus Bailey and Akeem Davis-Gaither sitting behind them. That leaves Johnston, Joe Bachie, and Keandre Jones vying for the last depth role.
Following his impressive play against New York, Johnston may have set himself apart from the pack. He recorded a whopping 20 combined tackles, posted the team’s only sack of the night, and was everywhere on the field, making plays left and right.
Despite his efficient performance, Johnston left the game unhappy and dissatisfied. He told reporters:
"“I’m going to have trouble sleeping tonight because of my special teams performance. I take pride in that. That’s my bread and butter and that wasn’t good today by me.”"
Cincinnati Bengals have a gem of a linebacker in Clay Johnston
In truth, both team’s special teams units struggled, and Johnston really shouldn’t be so hard on himself. 20 tackles is nothing to scoff at.
Cincinnati acquired Johnston on waivers in 2021, and Johnston made an immediate impact even though he only played in seven games. Last year, Johnston tied for second on the team in specials teams tackles (six) and carved out a role for himself as a surprisingly useful gadget player.
One of his most memorable plays, as Bengals fans will fondly remember, is stopping Derrick Henry just shy of the goal line on a two-point conversion in the divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. Talk about sheer strength.
The former seventh-round pick offers a wealth of value on specials teams, and his breakout Week 2 preseason performance makes a worthy case for Johnston potentially getting more reps in the defense.
Back at Baylor, Johnston recorded 11 double-digit tackle games in total, and given his post-game comments the young linebacker possesses the mentality and work ethic to continue improving his craft. After just one year in Cincy, he seems extremely comfortable in Lou Anarumo’s defense and could indeed earn a bigger role in 2022.
First things first, though, Johnston needs to focus on making the final roster. Let’s see if he can keep up his production in the coming weeks.