The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have got good and bad news regarding rookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
Billings, who was drafted with the 122nd pick in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, is set to undergo surgery on his injured knee at some point this week, reports Geoff Hobson. That's the bad news as Billings now could miss most, if not all of his rookie year.
The surgery is to fix a meniscus tear suffered in last Wednesday's joint practice with the Vikings, per Coley Harvey.
The good news is, as Hobson notes, Billings' surgery is not definitely of the season-ending variety, and the Bengals are holding out hope that he may be able to return at some point this season.
It would be very unfortunate if Billings isn't able to play in any live game action as a rookie, but it's not nearly as bad as him potentially missing the 2017 offseason as well. That's what a recovery from an ACL tear would cause.
The actual injury has yet to be revealed nor has the extent of the damage, so it’s still very hard to project a timetable for when Billings could come back.
More than likely, the Bengals are going to put Billings and fellow rookie William Jackson III on Injured Reserve. Jackson is recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral, but there is hope he could return later this season. If both Billings and Jackson go on IR only one would be eligible to return via the designation to return stipulation later on in the season.
My guess is the Bengals choose one of these two guys to bring back later in the year with that designation. Both players are facing long rehabs that could end both of their rookie seasons, so it’s possible neither comes back in 2016.
Going into this year's NFL Draft, the Baylor Bears star was viewed as a first-round prospect with some mocks having him land in Cincinnati at No. 24 overall. But when the first two days of the draft passed, rumors began to circulate about a knee issue that wasn't made publicly known.
However, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted after the Bengals made their selection that it was Billings' label as "a two-down defensive tackle" that caused his slide. After the draft, head coach Marvin Lewis also noted Billings 6'1" height as a reason he dropped.
But as Geno Atkins has shown us, you don't have to be tall or particularly bulky to raise hell in the trenches. In 2015, Billings registered 5.5 sacks, 39 tackles and 14 tackles for loss. That earned him a 2015 All-American honor and the co-Defensive Player of the Year title in the Big 12.
As good as Billings was in college, however, we've seen the Bengals slowly bring on even some of their most talented rookies with a slow learning curve that sees their playing time slightly increase as their rookie season wears on. Plus, Cincinnati will want to get everything Domata Peko has left to offer before possibly letting him go as a 32-year-old free agent next year.
And with another veteran tackle in Pat Sims in Cincinnati, it's very likely Billings was going to end up playing few snaps and being a regular gameday inactive. But with both Sims and Peko aging and not being the players they once were, Billings could surge into a starting role in 2017, regardless of how much he plays as a rookie.