Heading into training camp, it’s worth taking a look at a few IDP position battles that have yet to be resolved. There is potential production available on the waiver wire depending on who wins each role. And knowing who’s competing in each battle will give you a leg-up when injuries inevitably occur.
Cincinnati Bengals LBs
Stop me if you’ve heard this, Vontaze Burfict is facing a suspension. Surprisingly, Burfict played 16 games in each of the first two seasons of his career. Burfict is now Teryl Austin’s headache. Austin takes the helm of the Bengals defense after four seasons in the same role in Detroit. Two more new faces join Cincy’s LB room, free agent signee Preston Brown and 3rd Round rookie Malik Jefferson.
Brown has topped 100 total tackles every year of his career, aided by Buffalo’s generous stat crew, topping out at 144 tackles last season. Cincy is a downgrade regarding stat crew, but Brown only signed a one-year deal and is still only 25-years old, so he’s worth holding onto. Brown will be ticketed for the MIKE role and should be on the field all three downs.
Burfict put together 171 total tackles in 2013. It’s amazing what he could do if he played 16 games. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a repeat of that any time soon. Burfict will start at WILL when he’s available.
Former 3rd Rounder Nick Vigil will start at SAM. Vigil struggled as the 2017 season wore on until he ended up on IR. He ended with 79 total tackles in 11 games.
The question becomes who will play three downs with Brown. Burfict would be the obvious choice if he weren’t so Burfict-like (read, “already suspended”). Vigil played 100% of defensive snaps while he was healthy last season. Will Vigil play three downs during Burfict’s suspension and any eventual injuries? Or will Burfict’s replacement play 3-down?
Who will be Burfict’s replacement? One option is 6th Round sophomore Jordan Evans. The other likely option is 3rd Round rookie Malik Jefferson. Evans played 314 snaps last season, primarily after Vigil joined IR, and ended with 38 total tackles. Jefferson has the draft capital, but the Bengals seemed to like Evans last season.
Austin did trust a rookie LB with a 3-down role last season, but Jarrad Davis was more highly drafted than Jefferson. And Davis’ snap count went down as the season progressed as he became a liability against the pass. So, likely, it’ll be Vigil and Burfict who will split the other 3-down role. But don’t be surprised if Jefferson or Evans overtakes Vigil for the 3-down role during Burfict’s absence(s).
Thanks for reading. You can find me on Twitter @Ben_Glaser.