The Cincinnati Bengals need to have one eye on reducing costs on defense. The time has come for the offensive stars to get paid and that means getting younger, and cheaper, on the other side of the ball.
Drafting well and spotting talent are key to that and even undrafted free agents are likely to get a bigger shot at the roster than ever before. Here are three worth noting when camp begins.
Larry Brooks, Safety
Tulane safety Larry Brooks was a key piece in one of the Green Wave’s most successful campaigns last year. They went 12-2, winning the AAC and defeating USC in the Cotton Bowl. Brooks played the majority of his snaps at free safety, roaming the backfield, making plays.
Per PFF, he has eight career interceptions and eight pass breakups, as well as a coverage grade of 79.6 in 2022. That all points to a playmaker who will look to use his ball skills to impress in the preseason.
The Bengals invested heavily in the safety position this offseason. Not only did they add experienced free agent Nick Scott but surprised many with the third round pick of Jordan Battle. Making the 53 looks a difficult task for Brooks but someone with his production could be a useful stash on the practice squad.
Shaka Heyward, Linebacker
Linebacker is another position where the Bengals feel pretty comfortable with the group they have assembled. Getting Germaine Pratt back even though he hit the open market was a major coup, and the youngsters who provide depth have all shown talent when asked to step up.
Duke linebacker Shaka Heyward is an intriguing UDFA addition. At 6’3" and 235 pounds he has great size and can affect the passing game and running downs. Notably, Heyward was a captain in his final year at Duke and twice won the ‘Vincent Rey Award’ for best linebacker for the Blue Devils. Perhaps he can follow in the footsteps of Rey, who made the Bengals roster as a UDFA out of the same college.
Devonnsha Maxwell, Defensive Tackle
We’ve touched on how Zach Carter must take a step up and prove he can be a rotational 3-tech at the NFL level. Until he does, there will always be question marks over the spot as BJ Hill’s backup. While Chattanooga defensive tackle Devonnsha Maxwell is unlikely to be that guy in 2022, his college numbers suggest there is something there.
With 30 sacks and 82 total pressures during his five years in college, Maxwell knows how to get into the backfield. He is lean and his first challenge will be to add weight to beat NFL offensive linemen. He does display active hands and a nice spin move. His performance against power-5 opponent Illinois, where he landed two sacks and four pressures shows he may have enough to catch on somewhere.