Emmanuel Lamur is probably one of the least talked about Bengals' free agents, and for a good reason, given how many key players were set to hit free agency this season.
Lamur left for the Vikings, seeking a reunion with his old defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer. Now, it's a good time to reflect on what he could have been for Cincinnati had he been able to succeed as their safety-linebacker hybrid.
Football has gotten more and more aerial; big, athletic tight ends are now prolific primary offensive options for their teams, like Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, Rob Gronkowski or Tyler Eifert, just to name a few. The Bengals were one of the first franchises to realize the potential of having that kind of weapon when they drafted a gifted athletic prospect out of Oklahoma, Jermaine Gresham, with the 21st pick in the 2010 draft. He did not pan out and is now in Arizona, but it is clear that Cincinnati had noticed how valuable a guy like Gresham could be to their offense.
As soon as they jumped on that bandwagon, they were also quick to find his defensive antidote, a player fast enough to stick with the tight end in space, but also strong and big enough to jam and bump him and be able to play against the run. Lamur, a former college safety turned into a linebacker, was supposed to be the ideal fit for this role. At 6-4 and 245 pounds, he looked like the prototypical hybrid the Bengals were looking for.
Injuries have marred his career so far, though. After coming out big as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and starting in the Bengals Wild Card game against the Texans, he missed the entire 2013 season. Then injuries to other players at the position and James Harrison's departure forced his move to the SAM position the following year, a role that he is not built for given his lack of strength. In the role, he struggled often.
Lamur was able to bounce back a little bit on a reduced role last season, acting solely as a nickel linebacker and on special teams. Still, he's not physical or strong enough to consistently play in the box and he doesn't have that aggression the Bengals generally like in their linebackers. Lamur can't defeat a block and has been known to miss tackles, he's often a split second slow to react and doesn't have the bulk to bring guys down easily. These were likely among the reasons the Bengals let Lamur walk in free agency this year.
Not only have injuries slowed him down throughout his four-year career in Cincinnati, but his development as a complete player never really took off. Other safeties-turned-linebackers like Deone Bucannon in Arizona, or Mark Barron in
Saint Louis Los Angeles, have transitioned well and are now valuable players for their respective teams.
It is obvious that there is a need for guys like Lamur around the league, but the Bengals let him go even with no replacement available in the roster. When he was injured in 2013 another athletic-gifted safety stepped up and into the role, Taylor Mays. Interestingly, the Bengals just brought Mays back and though he has yet to figure out a way to standout in the NFL, he keeps getting chances because of his athleticism and size. It seems the Bengals are willing to take another chance on him this year.
Cincy could also be looking at Oklahoma's Eric Striker to fill it in at the position. Striker might lack Lamur's size but he appears to be a good fit given his "excellent chase speed from backside with ability to shut down run play before it gets started," per his NFL.com Draft profile.
The Bengals don't probably consider linebacker a top priority in the draft, but Striker could be someone they look to on Day 3.