Arden Key was a highly recruited high school prospect before landing at LSU. His success quickly followed over his first two seasons in Baton Rouge, but things fell apart in 2017 after he took time away from the team as well as getting shoulder surgery during that same time.
There is no doubt about the talent Key possesses though. He has a big body and all the athletic ability you could ask for. Still, some may be concerned about the clear decline in his play from his second season to his third. He still will go fairly early in this draft though.
Position: Pass rusher
Weight: 238 pounds
Arm Length: 33 1/2”
Projected Round: Late first or second round
NFL comparison: Willie Young
Vertical Jump: 31”
Broad Jump: 117”
3-Cone Drill: 7.16 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.25 seconds
The major thing teams will have to decide is if they think Key is going down a path that doesn’t include football as one of his focuses. All the natural ability is there. He has some technical stuff to clean up in the NFL as far as his ability to shed offensive linemen, but if he is focused on perfecting that, he could become quite the player.
The problem is he looked completely different in 2017, and most of it had to do with looking out of shape. He came in over weight, and his quick first step just wasn’t there.
A benefit with Key is his ability to stunt inside and beat interior defenders. He did it frequently at LSU. With that said, he may need to add some more muscle to be able to pull that off in the NFL.
Key’s unorthodox pass rushing style worked at the college level, but it remains to be seen if it will work against NFL caliber linemen. If it doesn’t, then it could take him more time to transition to the NFL than expected.
How he fits with the Bengals
Unless the Bengals cut Michael Johnson, I don’t think the team will look to add a pass rusher so early in the draft. If Key ends up on the Bengals, new defensive coordinator Terryl Austin would be able to find a package to send him out on the field early on and use him similarly to how Chris Smith was used in Cincinnati in 2017.
Key could be a very good situational pass rusher in the 4-3, but pairing up Key with Carl Lawson could theoretically transition the Bengals into a 3-4 set in certain pass rushing situations to help keep opposing teams on their toes. It would be one more thing for teams to have to worry about when preparing for the Bengals defense.
With that said, I don’t have a ton of faith in Key becoming that guy who has a sudden reemergence into the player he was early in his career. If it does happen, I think it will take a few years of correcting a lot of his pass rushing technique. The Bengals should pass on Key and opt for a player with less bust potential.