Remember when Penn State was known as Linebacker U?
Kentucky is more deserving of that title currently, based on the amount of talented backers the program has filtered into the NFL recently. Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan both ranked inside Pro Football Focus' top 10 linebackers from 2015. And then there's Avery Williamson, Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith joining the NFL in recent years. Could another Kentucky linebacker excel in the NFL from this year's draft class?
Height/weight: 6'3", 249 LBS.
Arm Length: 33 1/2"
Vertical Jump: 30.5"
Broad Jump: 118.0"
3 Cone Drill: 7.48 SEC
20-yard Shuttle: 4/22 SEC
40-yard Dash: 4.78 SEC
Bench Press: 11 REPS
Josh Forrest looks like he could be the latest UK backer to make an impact in the NFL. But this didn't look like the position Forrest would play in college, let alone the NFL just a few years ago. Forrest entered college in 2011 as a 6'3", 202-pound receiver prospect before moving to linebacker.
He would steadily improve every year in college to the point he was one of the SEC's better linebackers this past season. The now 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.
His 4.78 40-time 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'd easily be one of the Bengals' better coverage backers as a rookie, and could develop into a solid player at either the WILL, SAM or MIKE spots.
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. But, the Bengals are a team that values on-field play more than Combine and Pro Day results, so if they think Forrest can make an impact in their defense, they'll draft him.
And it won't take much to get Forrest as he's projected to go anywhere between Round 4 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 backer. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein gives Forrest a 5.28 grade (Developmental prospect or special teams potential) and ranks him 205th overall, which would have him being drafted around Round 6-7.
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. Though, early in the draft season, the Bengals were reported to have "strong interest" in Forrest.
Outside backer Emmanuel Lamur also left via free agency this offseason, not to mention Vontaze Burfict is out the first three games. Even with Karlos Dansby now here, adding another backer may be something the Bengals look to do later in the draft. Forrest will be one of the best backers on the board when Day 3 begins, so look for him to be in contention for a Bengals draft pick from Rounds 4-7.
Here's a look at Forrest's NFL.com scouting report by Lance Zierlein:
STRENGTHS: Tall, long-limbed and athletic. Was used all over the field by Kentucky staff. Has 202 tackles during his two-year stint as starter. Has plus chase speed. Lateral quickness is a strength. Length and closing burst gives him extended range to make tackles.
Has quick direction change to put himself in position for difficult open field finishes. Uses hand and foot quickness to sidestep and brush away blockers targeting him on second level. Frequently used as blitzer and gap shooter. Able to "get skinny" and sneak through crevices and into the backfield.
WEAKNESSES: Could use more strength in his lower half. Needs to add play strength to avoid being washed down against run. Physical tight ends can push him at point of attack. Too upright on downhill charges and blitzes. Gets jostled out of the play by redirect blocks.
Effort runs hot and cold. As tackler, below average job of breaking down in space. Relies on catch-and-drag technique over chesting up and finishing. Had nine broken and 22 missed tackles over last two years. Slow to diagnose and gets few head starts on the play. Average awareness in pass coverage and needs to get better at squeezing targets in his zone.
And here are some of Forrest's college highlights: