As has been the theme with most Bengals rookies in 2015, a loaded position led to this rookie playing sparingly during his first year in the NFL.
With the 99th-overall pick and final selection of day 2 during the 2015 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals grabbed TCU linebacker P.J. Dawson. Going into the draft, few saw Dawson being on the board late in Round 3 as the All-American was projected to be drafted in Round 2.
Dawson was rated as the top 4-3 linebacker prospect by some, and most expected he'd be off the board well before the second day of the draft was ending. He was a force at TCU in 2014, leading the team with 136 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and four interceptions on his way to being named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Pro Football Focus went as far as to call Dawson one of the biggest steals in the draft, and that lead many in Bengaldom to think he'd contribute significantly as a rookie.
Those expectations only grew with a good showing in training camp and the preseason, not to mention the Bengals expressing their belief Dawson was bound for greatness. All of this combined with Vontaze Burfict missing the first half of the season while recovering from knee surgery, made it seem Dawson was poised to make a big impact on this defense as a rookie.
But in reality, the Bengals were perfectly fine at all three linebacker spots with Rey Maualuga playing at a high level while Vinny Rey, A.J. Hawk and Emmanuel Lamur occupied the remaining snaps. Dawson would only be active in 11 games as a rookie while getting most of his playing time on special teams. He finished the season with just 12 tackles.
And as was with the case with pretty much every other Bengals rookie, we really didn't see what Dawson was capable of in regular-season action. Dawson probably had as good of a preseason as any first-year Bengal, but until that translates into more snaps in real games, Dawson will continue to be just a high-upside backup.
That said, Dawson may quickly find himself in a significant role in 2016. Burfict is facing a three-game suspension that may be reduced, but will likely still end up costing him a game or two to start the season. Rey and Lamur are free agents, too, so we could easily see Dawson being one of the top three backers to open the 2016 regular season.
That's why it's imperative that Dawson has a great offseason and continues to build off his strong showing in the preseason while getting to sit back and learn the defense in the regular season. If he does that, Dawson could easily become one of the top backers for the Bengals in 2016. There's no question, he has the talent to be great.