It's Scouting Combine week and that means there is no shortage of new mock drafts. Though the draft picture will likely be very different following free agency, many draft analysis have pegged linebacker, safety, and defensive end as three of the Bengals' greatest needs.
Rob Rang with CBS Sports continues this trend, offering up an inside linebacker for the Bengals at the 21 spot. This time, it's LSU's Kevin Minter.
With incumbent starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga expected to be allowed to test free agency the Bengals could be looking at improving at this position on draft day. Minter was overshadowed a bit with the Tigers but enjoyed one of the greatest seasons by any inside linebacker in LSU history with 130 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss in 2012. Not only was he statistically dominant against elite competition, he has the range to stay on the field on third down.
Minter's 130 tackles are a testament to his instinctual and aggressive style of play. He isn't known as a big hitter, but after Rey Maualuga and his "thumper" label, experience tells us that crushing hits aren't the most important aspect of being a linebacker. More important is his level of play against college football's best teams. As Rang notes above, Minter elevated his play against elite competition, putting up impressive tackle totals within the SEC. This aspect of Minter's game would be a breath of fresh air for a defense that often struggles in games against its divisional opponents.
Ultimately, the selection of any inside linebacker will depend on what the Bengals do with the position during free agency. The current school of thought argues that the team will move on from Rey Maualuga and allow Vontaze Burfict to assume the inside spot. Inside linebacker is Burfict's natural position after all, and his impressive play as a rookie merits at least a consideration for installing him as the defensive play caller. Until March 12th arrives, however, we'll be left guessing at the team's plans.