Linebacker is a tasty selection, if the Cincinnati Bengals elect to use their first-round selection there. James Harrison is gone. Rey Maualuga, the movie star, has his moments but he's a limited two-down backer. Vincent Rey provided glimpses last year. Emmanuel Lamur figures to be the next former undrafted free agent to play linebacker in the show titled, "so you think you can play in the NFL." All of whom are nothing compared to Cincinnati's emerging defensive leader, linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Doesn't that adds chills when you consider that Burfict is still surrounded by Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Leon Hall and Cincinnati's cast of productive role players? Enjoy Tampa, Anthony and Michael; we'll be playing in miserable Cincinnati come January.
Alright. I get the point. We can't put definitive forecasts on Vinnie/Vinny/Vincent or Lamur just yet -- what we know isn't absolute to what will come. We know what we know. We know that Burfict is the team's all-star linebacker entering his third season as, perhaps, Marvin Lewis' greatest prodigy to date, who uses open comparisons to soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
"You knew he had the charisma of a leader, he had the ability of a leader and he waited his turn," Marvin Lewis said last January. "He's evolved into this and he didn't step on anyone's toes doing it. He just evolved into it with his own natural abilities and what he is as a person and a player."
If the Bengals were the NFL's version of Lost -- and trust me, they have had several reasons to be -- then Burfict is the constant in Cincinnati's defense. Hall and Atkins are coming off major injuries. Dunlap will enter his first season without Michael Johnson at the other end, and you never really know how role players will respond with greater playing time.
So should the Bengals find themselves a compliment for Burfict at linebacker? Some mock drafts tend to hint that, such as Pat Kirwin with CBSSports.com, who selected Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier in his latest mock.
The in-state linebacker has speed, production and is a three-down player. He can play WLB on run downs, Mike in the nickel and he has pass rush skills. Cincinnati would be lucky if he's still on the board.
Extremely athletic, Shazier could help a Bengals linebacker core in need of speed and youth. Shazier had six sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss (tied for third in college football) as a roaming linebacker for the Buckeyes and many believe that he could come into the league and contribute right away, even if on a rotational basis.
During the NFL combine, the prospect linebacker recorded a 42-inch vertical leap paired with a 10-foot-plus broad jump -- impressive numbers for a linebacker. Then you have Shazier's character. His father is currently the Miami Dolphins team chaplain and the kid brings no baggage with him to the NFL. He boasts an incredible work ethic and the type of intangibles that could make him a solid player at the next level.
The two-man tandem has been beneficial to Cincinnati in the past. From Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, to Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, it's been a formula that's encouraged success.
Granted, linebacker isn't a need, but we've come to terms that the word "need" is archaic in Cincinnati's vocabulary. Greater focus is on enhancements. If an available player makes a position better, then it's going to be a cut-throat competition. But if you feel that the team won't draft a linebacker because they have someone like Rey Maualuga, then I salute your loyalty (while making fun of your nativity).
It's open season.