The Bengals have a solid group of linebackers for 2017, however, the story changes when you look to 2018 and beyond. As of now, Vontaze Burfict and Kevin Minter — both of whom are projected starters in 2017 — will be unrestricted free agents come next offseason.
Adding to that, Marquis Flowers will also hit unrestricted free agency, while P.J. Dawson will ben an exclusive rights free agent. That’s four linebackers in the projected two-deep depth chart that could be gone next year.
That’s why we should expect the Bengals to spend one, if not multiple draft picks on linebackers during the 2017 NFL Draft. One guy who could be an option in the latter rounds is Kansas State’s Elijah Lee, who is reportedly having a pre-draft visit with the Bengals next week, according to his agent:
The 6’3”, 228-pound Lee was a two-year starter for the Wildcats before deciding to turn pro as a junior this offseason. In 2016, Lee was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection while recording 110 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. In 2015, Lee racked up 80 tackles, three interceptions, 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. As a situational player in 2014, Lee managed to get 4.5 sacks in just nine games.
Those 11 career sacks are a great number for a linebacker, and the Bengals certainly need more pass-rushers. Perhaps Lee could be a situational guy this season who even lines up at defensive end, on occasion.
Lee is a bit undersized at 228 pounds to be an NFL linebacker, so he probably needs a year or two in order to bulk up and get significant snaps. He’s also someone projected to be selected toward the end of the draft or even be a priority free agent. ESPN ranks him as the 322nd best prospect overall, while NFL Draft Scout ranks him 227th. He could be a candidate for one of the Bengals’ four picks in Rounds 6-7 if these rankings are any indication on where he’ll be selected.