Could it be possible the Cincinnati Bengals will roll with two rookie linebackers as starters for the 2020 season? Not only do I think they should, but I think they will roll with the rookies.
It’s that time of year when rookies are all the rage. The NFL draft is complete. We know where everyone landed, and fantasy owners are consumed with rookie drafts. Now, all we want to know is how each rookie fits in with his new team, and what role he will take on. While every team looks ahead to the future, some of them roll with the rookies right away. The Bengals could have a couple of rookie linebackers that just very well might be day one starters.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted not one but three linebackers in the 2020 NFL draft and very well could roll with two of these rookies right out of the gate as starters. In the third round, the Bengals drafted Logan Wilson, from the Wyoming Cowboys, with the 65th overall pick of the draft. They followed that up by selecting Akeem Davis-Gaither, from the Appalachian State Mountaineers, in the fourth round with the 107th overall pick and Markus Bailey, from the Purdue Boilermakers, in the 7th round, with the 215th overall pick. The Bengals had a big need at the position and addressed it with a purpose. I love when teams know their weaknesses and make it a point of emphasis to improve. Cincinnati did just that with these three draft selections, all of whom could see the field very early to begin their careers.
Heading into his senior season at Wyoming, Logan Wilson was an unknown name in many circles, but those that followed the college game closely knew who he was. Now a year later, he’s become a hot name in the IDP world. The Bengals had the advantage of getting to see Wilson up close, as they coached the North team at the 2020 Senior Bowl. What they saw was an all-around impact player that can stay on the field for all four downs.
A three-year captain at Wyoming, who has the instincts and coverage skills to stay on the field at all times. His ability to read and diagnose plays pre and post-snap is elite. Logan Wilson is one of the most fundamentally sound and athletic players in his draft class. Wilson plays downhill easily with smooth fluid movements and rarely gets trapped by climbing blocks or caught up in traffic. There are some concerns about the level of competition he played against in college, but when watching him it’s easy to see how well his game will translate to the pros.
Senior stats: 13 games, 105 tackles, 8½ tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Akeem Davis-Gaither may have been drafted higher if this class wasn’t so deep at the linebacker position. The Bengals doubled down on the inside linebackers, by taking Wilson and Davis-Gaither, respectively, in back to back rounds of the draft. Davis-Gaither is an aggressive, physical downhill game wrecker with experience at playing all of the linebacker positions. He’s a better pass rusher than Wilson and will complement Wilson’s game nicely.
Davis-Gaither has a lot of range, coverage ability, and has top-end pursuit speed. He does an excellent job of slipping blocks and staying alive on plays. With above-average run game traits and uncanny timing for batting down passes, Davis-Gaither routinely fills the box score each week. He can play special teams as well. Like Wilson, there are some questions about whether he can make the step up in competition. I don’t see that being an issue with his skill set.
Senior stats: 14 games, 101 tackles, 14½ tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble
Despite having already selected two linebackers earlier in this draft, Cincinnati made sure they acquired as much talent as possible to fix their biggest need defensively. Based on talent and productivity, Markus Bailey, from the Purdue Boilermakers, should have been drafted earlier, but knee injuries in 2015 & 2019 hurt his draft stock. The Bengals already addressed their need at the position in previous rounds. They had the luxury of taking a gamble on a potential top-end talent late in the draft. If the Bengals bet right, they will be getting a great return.
While his athleticism isn’t top end, his blue-collar work ethic and football IQ allow him to have top-end production. Bailey plays aggressively and has a wide range of vision that allows him to see the entire field. His eyes and anticipation keep him ahead of the play even when his lack of athleticism limits him. Bailey is a solid two-down thumper with some pass-rush ability, that will allow the Bengals to win situational match-ups.
Junior stats: 13 games, 115 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 6½ sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble (listed junior stats due to setting out nearly all of his senior year with an injury)
Why do I think that Cincinnati will roll with the rookies?
Well, let’s look at their current roster. With the departures of Preston Brown and Nick Vigil, the Bengals have holes to fill. Logan Wilson should step in right away as the starter at strong-side linebacker. On the weak side, the Bengals have Jordan Evans, but he’s been nothing more than a backup/special teams player. Evans is three years into the league and saw his fewest amount of snaps last season. This does not bode well for someone on a team that desperately needs youth and talent.
This is a perfect opportunity for Akeem Davis-Gaither to step in and make his claim to be a starter. In the middle, the Bengals have second-year linebacker, Germaine Pratt, who started nine games last year. Naturally, he will get the first look to be the guy in the middle. Bailey will slide in as his back up for now. Don’t be surprised if he gets a look or two if Bailey learns quickly or Pratt slips in production. The Bengals need a shot of talented youth on defense and a group that can grow together. It just makes sense to roll with the rookies.
What does this mean in the fantasy football world? I believe all three rookie linebackers can help your fantasy teams and yield a great return on your investment. Given where the big three LB’s (Simmons, Queen, & Murray) are being drafted, I am more than happy to wait and select Wilson, roughly 15-20 picks later in rookie drafts. Wilson is primed to produce numbers just as good, and maybe even better, than the big three. The draft value is much better for him in my opinion.
As for Akeem Davis-Gaither, I am loving his draft spot in rookie drafts as well. On average, he’s being selected in the late 5th to early 6th round. With the potential to be a starter, that’s a tremendous value. Last, but not least, is Bailey. He has a tougher path to starting than the other two, but it’s certainly less than a long shot. Germaine Pratt will rightfully get the first look. Don’t be surprised if Bailey gets a quick look if Pratt slumps or just can’t get going. I believe he’s a great player that fantasy owners can add to their taxi squad portfolios. These are three linebackers at different IDP values, that you should target in your IDP rookie drafts. If The Cincinnati Bengals are willing to roll with the rookies, maybe you should too.