The Cincinnati Bengals found a pair of keepers this offseason in Jordan Evans and Chris Smith.
It was Smith who got much of the attention in the preseason, and for good reason. He was easily one of the best pass-rushers that any NFL team fielded. While the preseason is designed for backups like Smith to shine brightest, it was still an impressive showing that secured his spot on the 53-man roster, which seemed unlikely going into the preseason.
But Smith wasn’t the Bengals’ only defensive star. One guy who flew under the radar for much of the preseason was Evans. The rookie linebacker joined Smith on Pro Football Focus’ All-Preseason Team:
Smith didn’t play in Week 4, but his early preseason dominance was too much to for the rest of the edge players to overcome. He managed a sack on limited snaps in Week 3, but in Weeks 1 and 2, he totaled 14 total pressures.
Evans posted eight run stops, the highest total among 4-3 outside linebackers. His run stop percentage of 20.0 percent was third-best at his position, and he also posted three additional stops in coverage.
The fact that Smith didn’t even play in the fourth preseason game speaks to how dominant he was in the first three games. He was behind guys like Wallace Gilberry and Will Clarke entering training camp. But, by the time the preseason ended, Smith was miles ahead of them on the roster bubble, and it was Smith that survived final cuts while Gilberry and Clarke did not.
As for Evans, his spot on PFF’s All-Preseason team wasn’t quite as secure heading into the final preseason game, but he made sure that wasn’t the case as the game ended. That 7-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was an ugly one, but it was a beautiful defensive display that Evans was largely part of.
His performance in that game was arguably the best of any player in Week 4, and it also earned him a spot on PFF’s Team of the Week for Week 4.
Evans’ grade represents the highest individual overall mark of the week, and he accomplished this in just 18 total snaps. He racked up six solo tackles, all of them going for stops. He also limited receivers to two catches for one total yard on four throws into his coverage, with both incompletions coming due to him breaking up passes.
Both Evans and Smith figure to have significant roles in Cincinnati’s defense. As of now, Smith is one of just four defensive ends on the roster, and he outplayed Jordan Willis in the preseason; though, Willis had a nice preseason, too. Smith should be the first pass rusher off the bench.
As for Evans, he figures to see snaps while Vontaze Burfict serves his three-game suspension. His biggest impact may come on special teams, especially if Vincent Rey plays there less while starting at weakside linebacker in place of Burfict.