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Comparing Bengals’ 2016 outside linebackers to 2017 unit

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The Bengals made a few big changes to their linebacker corps this offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals entered the 2017 NFL offseason with the linebacker position needing significant upgrading. In addition to the problems on the inside, the Bengals experienced numerous problems on the outside in terms of both production from the starters and reliability from the backups. Once the 2017 NFL offseason got going, the Bengals made some notable moves on the outside, in an attempt to fix the issues.

Let’s take a look at the outside linebackers on the roster now in comparison to where the team stood in 2016.

2016 roster

Karlos Dansby

During the 2016 offseason, the Bengals signed Dansby to a one-year contract after a relatively quiet stint with the Cleveland Browns. He was expected to come in and stabilize the Bengals’ strongside linebacker position, following the departure of Emmanuel Lamur. Unfortunately, his production in Cincinnati remained virtually the same as it looked in Cleveland, so the Bengals made little effort to re-sign him this offseason.

Status: On the Arizona Cardinals

Vontaze Burfict

Without a doubt the best linebacker on the team, Burfict looked great when he was on the field in 2016. He recorded 101 total tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, eight pass deflections, and two interceptions for 54 yards in 11 games played. Unfortunately, he missed five games during the course of the season. Two of those games were due to nagging injuries, but three of them came as a result of being suspended due to repeated violations of the NFL’s safety rules. Burfict hasn’t played a full 16 game season since his second year in the league (2013). It would certainly be helpful if he could be on the field more often, and this season will be a contract year for the Bengals’ best linebacker.

Status: Still on the team

Marquis Flowers

Flowers is going on his fourth season with the Bengals, but he is still the longest tenured backup outside linebacker on the team. However, he has also rarely made much of an impact on the field. Despite being active for all 16 games in both of his healthy seasons (2014, 2016), he has only started one game in his career, recording one pass deflection and 13 total tackles in the process. He saw a bit of playing time in 2016, recording a fumble recovery. But, otherwise, he has been very quiet and will likely need to fight to prove he is worthy of a roster spot, heading into a contract year.

Status: Still on the team

Nick Vigil

The Bengals drafted Vigil with the 87th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, a decision that was seen as a major reach by most fans and analysts. However, Vigil impressed the coaching staff in 2016 and, despite only recording 14 total tackles and one pass deflection, he is expected to become a key piece in the Bengals’ defense going forward.

Status: Still on the team

P.J. Dawson

The roller coaster that is the Dawson saga has been a confusing one in Cincinnati. The Bengals made him the 99th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, which was considered a huge steal at the time, but he rarely saw the field that season and was cut during roster cuts last season. It was difficult to make sense of the decision at the time, but most reports circled back to his work ethic and missing meetings. However, the Bengals showed they weren’t giving up on him permanently by signing him to the practice squad and re-promoting him to the active roster at the end of the season.

Status: Still on the team

2017 changes

Dansby back in Arizona

The Dansby experiment in Cincinnati filled a need, but didn’t do much more than that. The Bengals were likely hoping for more from a player brought in to fill a starting role. Though, how much could they have expected from a player cut by the Browns? That’s not to say he never did anything good with the Bengals, but sufficient levels of production were too few and far between for the Bengals to bring him back for another season, further clogging the outside linebacker position with age. At the moment, Vigil seems to be the favorite to step into the vacated starting role, but there are a few other promising players on the roster who could make the jump.

Bengals draft Carl Lawson in Round 4

Although he primarily played defensive end in college, the Bengals drafted Lawson to be a linebacker at the NFL level. Purely from the perspective of natural talent, there were very few more attractive prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. After all, he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school. Unfortunately, his college career was marred by injury and so his technique isn’t completely refined. Because of that and the injury risk, he fell to Round 4. The Bengals are no strangers to turning mid-round projects into gems and they took a chance on Lawson. If he can develop at a sufficient pace, there is a good chance he could not only become a starter, but become one of the best players at his position.

Bengals sign Bryson Albright

Not exactly the most glamorous signing of the offseason, the Bengals added to their depth at outside linebacker by bringing in former Bills linebacker Albright. He was only active for one game in 2016 and didn’t record any stats in the process, but he is a Cincinnati native, playing at St. Xavier in high school and Miami University in college. It will be a hard fight for him to make the roster in 2017.

2017 outlook

When you really look at it, despite the new additions, the Bengals’ 2017 outlook at outside linebacker doesn’t feel much different than it did in 2016. A promising developmental prospect like Carl Lawson adds hope for the future, although in a similar way P.J. Dawson did. The Bengals are still solid at the weakside linebacker position with Burfict holding down the fort, but the strongside position is an unknown. Vigil will likely get the spot and shouldn’t struggle to, at the very least, rise to the bar Dansby set. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty at outside linebacker and the questions remaining won’t be answered until the season begins.