Linebacker wasn’t thought to be a major issue for the Cincinnati Bengals going into the 2018 season, but they still managed to add a promising rookie to the mix in Jordan Evans.
Evans came to Cincinnati as a sixth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. The former Oklahoma standout was a full-time starter for his last three seasons in college, though his career was highlighted by a senior season in which he recorded 98 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, eight pass deflections and one forced fumble in 13 games.
Evans was regarded as one of the best coverage linebackers in the draft, something the Bengals needed to upgrade since Vontaze Burfict is the only consistent linebacker in that regard.
Pro Football Focus even noted that Evans did very well in coverage in 2016, allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for just one touchdown and a 64.3 passer rating against him. The Bengals use their linebackers in zone defenses frequently, which appears to be an area in which Evans excelled as a Sooner.
However, that was far from being the case during Evans’ rookie season. After injuries began knocking out various Bengals linebackers, Evans began seeing extended snaps as the season wore on, and they weren’t good.
Far too often, Evans took poor angles on tackles, blew his coverage assignment, or simply got beat like a drum in coverage. To be fair, Evans looked like he was thinking too much at times and the game was just going to fast for him.
With a full season experience, perhaps the game will slow down for him enough to become a solid player eventually, but he’s far from that right now.
Evans managed to finish 85th among 86 eligible players in Pro Football Focus rankings of the top linebackers in the 2017 season. It was one spot worse than Nick Vigil, who was equally horrific in his role last season.
Between those two struggling, Kevin Minter being a free agent bust, Vincent Rey aging and going into the final year of his deal, and Vontaze Burfict being prone to miss games due to suspension or injury, the Bengals need to add another quality linebacker in free agency or the draft this year.
That in turn could put Evans’ roster spot in jeopardy for next season. He did show flashes of being a respectable player as a rookie, but not enough to assume his roster spot is safe in 2018.
Evans’ roster spot will be largely determined by if the Bengals re-sign Minter and if they spend a high pick on a linebacker this year.