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Bengals roster breakdown, 90-in-90: P.J. Dawson

The enigma of P.J. Dawson will be one of the more interesting storylines among Cincinnati’s linebacker unit this summer.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL career of Cincinnati Bengals linebacker P.J. Dawson has been a wild ride. After hearing his name called as the 99th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dawson made the Bengals’ 53-man roster in his rookie year, but failed to do the same in 2016. The move came as a big surprise as the Bengals rarely give up on early draft picks the way they seemed to do with Dawson. But, days after getting cut, the team did sign him to the practice squad, where he remained for all but the last two games of the season. Dawson was promoted to the 53-man roster after Vontaze Burfict suffered a concussion, causing him to miss the final two games of the season.

So, what are Dawson’s chances of making it back to the roster in 2017 and where does he stand on the depth chart?

P.J. Dawson

College: Texas Christian University

Age: 24

Experience: 2 accrued seasons

Height: 6’0"

Weight: 240 pounds

Cap status

After getting cut in 2016, Dawson’s rookie contract was void. He’s now in the second year of a three-year contract with a cap hit of $540,000 in 2017. He will be a restricted free agent during the 2019 offseason, according to Spotrac.


It's do-or-die time for Dawson.

Technically, Dawson experienced both (doing and dying) last year after making the initial 53-man roster, and then getting waived shortly thereafter. It wasn’t talent nor ability that were the issues, as Dawson has more than enough of both to be playing in the NFL.

The problem with Dawson, just as it was in college, was work ethic. Dawson had a so-so rookie season that saw him appear in 11 games and make 12 tackles with one pass deflection. However, Dawson developed a reputation for relying heavily on his talent and ability to be a stud backer in college, without doing the necessary work in the weight and film rooms.

Dawson learned the hard way that talent alone won’t cut it in the NFL. He reportedly had a poor work ethic during his first year with the Bengals and missed team meetings during the 2016 offseason. That led to him being cut last year in favor of linebacker Trevor Roach, whose work ethic dwarfed that of Dawson. The Bengals weren’t willing to let Dawson continue to get away with his poor work ethic and cut him as a result.

Fortunately for Dawson, the Bengals gave him a second chance on the practice squad and late in the season, the roster. He was only active for two games and made one tackle, leaving himself with virtually no new film to go off since his rookie season.

That will make it hard for him to land with another 53-man roster if he can’t make the Bengals’ this year. He does still have a year of practice squad eligibility if he doesn’t start working like someone fighting for his NFL livelihood.

Odds Of Making 53-Man Roster

Dawson is facing another uphill climb to make the Bengals' 53-man roster. Kevin Minter, Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil have their spots locked up. Rookie Carl Lawson figures to have his spot locked up as well, though he's more of a hybrid defensive end/outside backer.

That leaves one or two additional roster spots for Dawson to win, fighting with the likes of Marquis Flowers, sixth-round rookie Jordan Evans, offseason addition Bryson Albright and undrafted rookies Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson. Flowers has far more experience and has proven himself more than Dawson. The Bengals also prefer to keep all of their draft picks as rookies, which figures to give Evans a slight edge if it's a close battle. The early word is that Nickerson is highly impressive and has a veteran presence, despite being a rookie. And, Bell was a force at Penn State who will fight for his life in the NFL, too.

As much talent as Dawson possesses, he just hasn't shown enough to think he'll win a roster spot with so many deserving players fighting for a role in Cincinnati.

Roster Odds: 35 percent.