One of the more intriguing undrafted free agents Cincinnati landed this year is former Illinois linebacker Hardy Nickerson.
Will the young stud whose dad (Hardy Nickerson Sr.) was coached by Marvin Lewis during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, make the Bengals’ 53-man roster, and if not, will he make the practice squad?
Weight: 232 pounds
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Draft status: Undrafted free agent in 2017
Nickerson is signed to a three-year, $1,665,000 contract with the Bengals. In 2017, Nickerson will have a cap hit of $465,000 if he makes the final roster, per Spotrac.
Not long after the NFL Draft ended, the Bengals agreed to an undrafted free agent deal with Nickerson, who hopes to be the latest undrafted linebacker to make the Bengals’ roster.
The most memorable to do so has been Vontaze Burfict, who went from being undrafted out of Arizona State to becoming one of the game’s best backers. Burfict is also a player who Nickerson’s father, Hardy Nickerson Sr. enjoys watching.
Nickerson Sr. was a four-time All-Pro and member of the NFL’s All-1990s team while playing for the Steelers and Buccaneers. And, as mentioned above, Nickerson Sr. was actually coached by Lewis in the 90s when they both were in Pittsburgh.
The younger Nickerson, who will be joining the Bengals and competing for a roster spot this season, doesn’t have as much fanfare right now. One thing he does have is the rare honor of being an all-conference performer in two Power 5 leagues. He began his career at Cal, where he was an All-Pac 12 performer in 2015 after registering 111 tackles.
The 6-foot, 232-point Nickerson would spend a postgraduate season at Illinois, where his father, Hardy Nickerson Sr. was named defensive coordinator in 2016. The younger Nickerson had 107 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions that season, which earned him All-Big Ten honors.
Nickerson is now in for a battle to carve out an NFL career in Cincinnati, where a crowded linebacker group of Burfict, Vinny Rey, Kevin Minter, Nick Vigil and fourth-round rookie Carl Lawson are all but locked into roster spots. Both Rey and Burfict were undrafted players who created notable careers for themselves in Cincinnati. We’ve seen other guys like Emmanuel Lamur, Dan Skuta, Jayson Dimanche and J.K. Schaffer make it to the 53-man roster after going undrafted in recent years, so perhaps Nickerson can become the latest player to do so.
Nickerson is battling P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers, Brandon Bell and sixth-round rookie Jordan Evans for one of the final backup spots. It’s more likely he ends up on the practice squad than the 53-man roster, but if history is any indicator, don’t count out a Nickerson.
It also helps that Flowers has struggled in the preseason, while Dawson has been out with a hand injury. Neither of those guys is likely making the final roster. However, Evans has really impressed this preseason, and being a draft pick, he almost certainly will win that final spot over Nickerson if the team keeps six linebackers.
Nickerson is also dealing with a back injury suffered in the second preseason game. Look for him to be in contention for one of the 10 practice squad spots, but as long as he’s off the field, there’s almost no chance he makes the roster. As of Wednesday, he was sitting out of practice.
Odds: 10 percent.