The emergence of P.J. Dawson has been one of the best stories for the Bengals in the months leading up to the season.
The third-round linebacker out of TCU has made the best case for early playing time and possibly a starting role among any rookie from the Bengals' 2015 draft class. His performances have earned him some high marks on Pro Football Focus, and they just named Dawson to their list of the 10-best rookies of the preseason thus far.
Dawson comes in at No. 6 on the list and still is rated as their top 4-3 outside linebacker:
Paul Dawson, LB, Bengals (5.5)
Sometimes great players don't measure well. That may well be the case for Dawson, who doesn't wow anybody from a measurables standpoint, but was by far our best-graded off-ball linebacker in the FBS last season. He looks to have carried that right over to the NFL, notching eight defensive stops in just 49 snaps and leading all 4-3 outside linebackers in grade — not just rookies.
To give you an idea of why Dawson has such a high grade, here's a look at his three plays of the preseason thus far:
3) From SAM to MIKE in same play
This was personally my favorite play of Dawson's because it shows just how much faster he plays the game than other linebackers. On the play, Dawson lines up at the SAM, but ends up becoming the MLB as he bursts past Trevor Roach to make the stop in the backfield:
That kind of read-and-react ability is simply why Dawson is so special. It's also the kind of thing you can't test a player for off-the-field, which is where Dawson struggled in the pre-draft process, which led to his fall to the end of the third round.
2) Dawson sniffs out screen pass with ease
On this play Dawson starts to drop back in pass coverage, but reads the screen pass perfectly and lays out the running back before he could even turn around after catching the ball.
1) 2 goal-line stuffs to prevent a TD
On this one, Dawson gets a stop in the backfield on 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line to prevent the score:
And three plays later, Dawson knives into the backfield for a stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line:
Honorable Mention: Dawson's pick-six helps TCU upset Oklahoma
In case you didn't realize, college football is back, and the TCU Twitter page just posted this memorable play of Dawson's pick-six last year to lead the Horned Frogs to an upset of then-No. 4 Oklahoma:
As if you needed any more confirmation the Bengals got a good player in Dawson.