NFL free agency may be fast approaching, but that's not keeping the Cincinnati Bengals from doing their homework on NFL draft prospects.
On Friday, head coach Marvin Lewis made a short trip down I-75 to attend Kentucky's Pro Day. Though the Wildcats don't feature a wealth of NFL talent this year, their top prospect is someone Cincinnati appears to be interested in.
That man is linebacker Josh Forrest, and Walter Football reports he's drawing "strong interest" from the Bengals and Carolina Panthers. That report also includes an interesting tidbit on why Forrest had such a poor showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ranked 29th of 31 linebackers in the 40-yard dash at 4.91 seconds.
Apparently, Forrest was among several players, scouts, coaches and other NFL team personnel who were afflicted with various stomach flus and viruses. That helped lead to Forrest and other prospects performing poorly, but the good news is, he improved on his Combine performance at UK’s Pro Day.
He improved his 40-yard dash time to 4.75 seconds, which would have ranked 17th at his position at the combine. That speed is reminiscent of the way Forrest played in college as a good sideline-to-sideline backer who was also good in pass coverage. He should be, given he entered college as a wide receiver prospect before moving to linebacker and steadily improving every year in college to the point he was one of the SEC's better linebackers this past season.
But too often in college, Forrest had problems shedding blocks and taking ball-carriers down with his force. He often had to ride ball-carriers to the ground after they made initial contact and too often gave ground and yards up in the process.
That was evident when Forrest ranked last among the 28 linebackers who participated in the bench press with 11 reps of 225 pounds at the combine. No other linebacker totaled fewer than 15 reps, and it's hard to think the flu had a big impact on that. Even Forrest admitted his strength needs to improve and that's a talking point with NFL personnel.
"I did it last week and I didn't feel like it was gonna change much from last week," said Forrest, via the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Maybe one or two more reps, but that wasn't going to be a big difference."
But, the Bengals have made it known that they value on-field play more than Combine and Pro Day results.
The 6-3, 249-pound Forrest ranked 10th in the SEC with 93 total tackles including six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions and five pass breakups this past season. He's projected to go anywhere between Round 3 to the end of Day 3 of this year's draft.
CBS Sports ranks him as the 12th-best linebacker and 285th overall. Walter Football gave him the highest draft grade as a Round 3-4 prospect and the seventh-best inside linebacker prospect. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him 157th overall, which would have him being drafted around Round 5.
If the Bengals were to draft Forrest, it's hard to see him playing much, if any this year outside of special teams. He may be someone the Bengals look to groom as a future replacement in the middle for Rey Maualuga, who is 29 and has just two years left on his deal.
But, backup Vinny Rey is 28 (turning 29 in September) and is about to hit free agency and outside backer Emmanuel Lamur is also set to hit free agency. So, adding another linebacker may be something the Bengals need to do in this draft.
It looks like Forrest will be someone they consider if that ends up being the case.