Would it be terribly surprising if we told you that neither Keith Rivers or Rey Maualuga graded as a top-ten outside linebackers over the course of the past three seasons in the NFL? Pro Football Focus has taken the production of outside linebackers in 4-3 base formations, accumulated their grades over three seasons and released into a nice top-ten list. Baltimore's Jarret Johnson tops outside linebackers with a 50.2 grade, better than Minnesota's Chad Greenway, Jacksonville's Daryl Smith, Seattle's David Hawthorne, New York's Keith Bulluck, Chicago's Lance BRiggs and Houston's Brian Cushing among others.
Rivers in the past three seasons grades at 14.9, which should rank ninth on their list. Maualuga graded at 15.7. Both linebackers were ditched from their top-ten for falling below the minimum 1,580 snaps required on defense. Thanks to shortened rookie season, along with being substituted during passing downs, Rivers has only 1,373 NFL snaps. As a two-year veteran, Maualuga has only accumulated 1,105 NFL snaps.
Maualuga is expected to become the team's starting middle linebacker, provided the team isn't set on re-signing Dhani Jones for that purpose. We do expect the Bengals to make an effort signing Jones, but not as the immediate starting middle linebacker. Then again it's pretty hard to replace Jones, who averaged 155 tackles per season in the past three years.
We like to put both players in the solid category, but disappointing for the large (maybe unrealistic) expectation that both would be big playmakers on defense.