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After the 2010 NFL Draft: Bengals May Have Found Their Next-Gen Starting Linebacker

Now that you've had time to digest the team's 2010 Draft Class, we wanted to take the time and reset the team's roster, predicting what this means with the team's roster and how the Bengals will look going into the regular season. We had to split this up into multiple parts for the sheer volume of content. In this post, we examine the linebacker.

It wasn't surprising that the Bengals used their fourth round compensatory pick on a linebacker this weekend. We figured that a linebacker drafted this year would be focused on a long-term solution once the team deals with upcoming contract issues with Dhani Jones, Brandon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty. Jones, getting a little long in the tooth, could leave after 2010 and Johnson may find greener pastures outside of Cincinnati. I know, I'd like Johnson to stay also. But he's a good, good talent who will find a team that will ask him to be the team's starter. And he won't find that with Keith Rivers starting at weak-side linebacker.

With all of that in mind, there's been speculation that the Bengals will plan to move Rey Maualuga from strong-side linebacker to middle linebacker, replacing Jones after 2010. The team even experimented with Maualuga at middle linebacker during last month's voluntary minicamp. However, one has to suspect that maybe those plans were slightly altered after this weekend.

Drafting Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy obviously improves the teams special teams with linebackers Abdul Hodge and Dan Skuta manning the bottom half of the depth chart.

Scouts Inc rated Muckelroy as a "natural leader" that shows a lot of "maturity and is a hard worker on and off the field". Furthermore, his play on the field is summarized as disciplined with excellent instincts, rarely taking "false steps and is almost always the first to sniff out a screen" and reverse. The biggest knock on him is that he has low core strength and if he doesn't knock the ball carrier off balance with the initial hit, he tends to drag the ball carrier down.

All things considered, Muckelroy seems like the natural heir as the team's middle linebacker. And what a better scenario than to have Dhani Jones mentor the linebacker for a full season? No, we're not claiming that Muckelroy will be the next middle linebacker. We're not claiming that Muckelroy will unseat any perceived plan to move Maualuga to the middle. It's just too early in the process to make that concrete of a belief. From what we read, however, it just makes sense that any one of us could come to that conclusion. Given a year to mentor under Jones while building his upper core strength could give him the inside edge, not just to become the team's next middle linebacker, but the defensive leader as well.

Aside from that, the draft didn't cause any major changes within the team's core roster of linebackers this year. Jones is still expected to start with Maualuga and Rivers flanking him. Jeanty and Johnson are still the respective backups for on the outside. If we use last year's opening day roster as a baseline with six linebackers heading into the regular season, Abdul Hodge, Dan Skuta and Muckelroy are battling it out for that final spot, competing for the backup middle linebacker spot. Unless Muckelroy completely disappoints, he's just as good a projection as any. The variable? The Bengals taking seven linebackers rather than six. Why that's unlikely? The roster is becoming way too crowded with talent on defense. Man, that just sounded really good.