I remember watching the 2009 draft. In the first round the Cincinnati Bengals selected Andre Smith and then, when the Bengals went on the clock in the second round, Rey Maualuga, an inside linebacker from USC that I, and everybody else, figured would be gone, was still on the board. He seemed too good to pass up and everybody cheered the Bengals for getting the steal of the draft.
However, three years later, Bengals fans have lost a lot of patience with Maualuga and even though he's still one of the fan favorites on defense and there are a ton of Maualuga jerseys, he is on a lot of fans' bad side, including mine.
Maualuga started his career at SAM linebacker while Keith Rivers was at WILL and Dhani Jones was at MIKE. While playing outside linebacker, Maualuga showed that he had a lot of talent, but he played undisciplined at times and could be a liability in coverage. However, in both of those two seasons, Pro Football Focus gave him positive grades for his overall seasons (6.7 in 2009, 9.1 in 2010).
Heading into the 2011 season, it was clear that the Bengals were going to move Maualuga to his natural MIKE position after they chose not to re-sign Dhani Jones. Many felt that Maualuga would have a break out year as he would be playing where he was more comfortable, but even though he had the most tackles in 2011, he struggled badly. He would have one good game and then two or three terrible ones. His PFF grade dropped from 9.1 in 2010 to -6.3 in 2011.
While there needs to be an adjustment period for Maualuga to get used to playing at middle linebacker, and even though he is showing flashes of what could be, more often than not, he has showed that there was a reason he fell to the Bengals in the second round and that he may not be that big of an upgrade over Dhani Jones at middle linebacker. At least with Jones, you knew what you were getting and you consistently got it.
And then there's the off-field issues. Maualuga was arrested and charged with a DUI in January of 2010 and after that he swore he was a changed man. However, he was recently charged with assault after he allegedly punched a bar employee when he was intoxicated in February. Even though the case went to mediation, it's unclear what the NFL's punishment will be, if there is one. It's kind of apparent that the DUI charge didn't hammer the point home enough.
Maualuga is entering a contract year in 2012. If he plays the same way he did in 2011, the Bengals may bring him back, but not at the price that he'll want and maybe not even as a starter. If he proves to the team and to all the fans that he is a natural middle linebacker and he was the steal of the 2009 draft, things could be very different for him. As of right now, though, I'm of the opinion the Bengals would be better off with a guy like Luke Kuechly or Dont'a Hightower in the middle running a defense and I'll continue to feel that way until Maualuga proves me wrong.
He hasn't so far.