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Why Bengals Keith Rivers Deserves A Fair Shake

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Taking it upon himself to show how the draft is more fluid about the future of players drafted into the NFL, ESPN's Ricky Reilly redrafts the first round of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 NFL Drafts. The idea is simple, with knowledge of their careers in the NFL at hand, Reilly runs through the first round selections and places where the player should have been drafted. Not location, but slotted. The team that drafted a certain player actually held no bearing on his list whatsoever. For example, Cincinnati's Johnathan Joseph was drafted 24th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. In Reilly's redraft, he has Joseph selected 14th overall. Same thing with Leon Hall, originally selected 18th overall, Hall goes 13th according to Reilly's redraft in the 2007 NFL Draft.

The Bengals ninth overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft Keith Rivers wasn't viewed as impressive in the complicated mind of Reilly, who has Rivers going 87th overall. Really? Let's talk about this one.

Rivers is often promoted as a disappointment in various circles, largely due to inflated expectations that were simply unattainable in some minds. With two career interceptions, two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble, Rivers hasn't been the game-changing play-maker many fans had hoped. Additionally, injuries have hurt Rivers, who hasn't played a full 16-game schedule during any given season, missing 13 of 48 games in his career.

At the same time, he's been solid as a defensive contributor, specifically against the run.

Rivers finished second on the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons, posting 85 stops in 2010 and 101 tackles in 2009. The only reason that his total number of tackles hasn't reached led the team is because Dhani Jones posted 302 tackles in the past two seasons. And well, middle linebackers that play all three downs tends to have a higher number whereas Rivers was often substituted with Brandon Johnson during obvious passing situations. And during Rivers' seven-game stint during his rookie season, he posted back-to-back 11-tackle games against the Ravens and Titans to begin his career.

Pro Football Focus agrees, listing Rivers as the team's best linebacker in 2009 and second-best in 2010 behind Rey Maualuga, often noting his rush defense.

Alright. We mostly agree that Rivers simply isn't a game-changer. But like Maualuga, Carlos Dunlap, Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Pat Sims and Geno Atkins (among others), Rivers is a young foundation player on this defense. Will he sack quarterbacks and force fumbles. History suggests not so much. Will he single-handedly force a turnover on third down, intercepting a pass during a ten-play drive to prevent that opposition from scoring? We don't see it as much.

But this defense isn't simply a collection of one player. The league's fourth ranked defense in 2009 was successful, not because of any one player, rather the combination of all players playing well. A defense that works symbiotically. A pass rush will feature the cornerbacks. The cornerbacks will feature the pass rush. The defensive line will feature the linebackers. So forth and so on. That largely happened in 2009 while we missed a lot of that in 2010.

This defense has to work symbiotically for them to be successful. And that's where Rivers best fits.