The Bengals linebacker unit is one of the more intriguing positions to consider when it comes to the 53-man roster this September. Though the Bengals had one of the top-ranked defenses in football last season, linebacker was often a weak point, especially during Vontaze Burfict’s time on the Physically Unable to Perform list in Weeks 1-6.
The Bengals added talented linebackers via free agency and the NFL Draft this year to address the position. Karlos Dansby, who spent last year with the Browns and has 13 years of NFL experience, was a quality pickup for the team and will look to take on a starter role for at least the duration of Burfict’s three game suspension to start the season. Once the Draft rolled around, the Bengals didn’t wait long to select a linebacker to add more talent to the unit, though, the rookie they picked came as a surprise.
Nick Vigil was projected as a Day 3 pick, but the Bengals felt strongly enough about him to select him in Round 3. Many fans were confused by the pick, but so far, all we’ve heard in regards to Vigil is praise.
"He's been unbelievable," Paul Guenther said of Vigil after mandatory minicamp concluded last week. "He's the prototypical linebacker of this age with the passing game. He's really good in coverage, he's real smart--as a matter of fact, when we watched him on tape, he reminded me of a local guy from Cincinnati, which was Luke Kuechly in the play style. He's been repping in with our first group and he's been mixing in and it's not too big for him, so we're excited about him as well."
Guenther, and others like Burfict, who have compared Vigil to Kuechly aren’t saying the Bengals rookie is currently as good as the Panthers’ talented linebacker, just that their playing styles are similar. Still, it’s a nice comparison and one Vigil should strive to see to life on the field. Let’s evaluate where Vigil stands as the summer kicks off.
Weight: 239 pounds
Arm length: 32 3/8"
College: Utah State
Combine results: 40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds, vertical jump: 31.5 inches, broad jump: 115.0 inches, 3 cone drill: 6.73 seconds, 20 yard shuttle: 4.0 seconds. (Note: Vigil was the top linebacker performer at the Combine for the 3 cone drill and 20 yard shuttle.)
While Vigil is among the bottom players on the totem pole at the linebacker position, if he proves his worth and shows the Bengals they were right to pick him in Round 3, there could be playing time for him on defense, especially early on while Burfict is out. But, special teams is where Vigil will really be able to make an impact this year.
"He came in day one as a freshman and played in 40 of 41 games during this three years. He rarely gets hurt and is a very durable and versatile football player," Mountain West Connection writer and Utah State fan, Jeremy Mauss said of Vigil. "His production was just amazing as he had 30 tackles for loss and 267 tackles in his final two seasons. Vigil's able to get to the quarterback and is very skilled at getting behind the line of scrimmage."
At Utah State, Vigil accumulated 160 solo tackles, 179 assisted tackles and 40 tackles for loss across three seasons. He also racked up 17.5 sacks, nine of which came during his sophomore year in 2014. That year was one Vigil will surely remember as he also had 5 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed and an interception. And, that wasn’t all as Vigil also played on offense in 2014 as a running back, attempting 41 rushes for 152 yards, (3.7 ypc) and 3 touchdowns. The Aggies even had Vigil attempt two passes that season, both of which were caught, for a total of 13 yards. It’s nothing to write home about, but goes to show just how versatile and talented the Bengals rookie is.
"He surprised everyone by taking snaps at running back in his sophomore year and was quite successful," Mauss added.
With an experienced group of players ahead of him on the depth chart, it may be difficult for Vigil to make an impact on the defense as a rookie, but, he has the skill set and speed to stand out on special teams. If he lives up to expectations, Vigil could certainly be the future at linebacker for the Bengals.
Chances of making the roster:
The Bengals' linebacker unit currently consists of Dansby, Burfict, Rey Maualuga, Vinny Rey, P.J. Dawson, Jayson DiManche, Marquis Flowers, Darien Harris, Jeff Luc (though, he's been practicing at fullback), Trevor Roach and Vigil. Taylor Mays, a linebacker/safety hybrid player also factors into the equation at the position.
As a third round pick, Vigil is essentially assured a place on the 53-man roster this year. Dansby, Burfict, Maualuga, Rey and Dawson are all near-locks as well. While Burfict will be suspended for the first three games of the season, and Mays will be suspended for the first four games of the season, there will likely be one other player from the linebacker unit who competes for a spot on the 53-man roster during those suspensions, but, once Week 4 rolls around, someone will likely be cut to make room for Burfict’s return. While someone is likely to get cut, it almost surely won’t be Vigil.
The future looks bright for the Bengals rookie linebacker.