Even though injuries impacted every position group in the Bengals’ 50th season, the linebacker corps was one of the worst hit. What was looking to be a promising year for the group ended up to be a carousel of disappointment. Nick Vigil, who was the team’s leading tackler at the time, ended his season in Week 12 with an ankle injury. Vontaze Burfict lasted two preseason games before getting slapped with a suspension that caused him to miss the first three games of the regular season. Kevin Minter battled injuries as well and ended the season with 32 total tackles over seven starts. Vincent Rey was supposed to be a backup for all three linebacker spots, but ended up starting 11 games.
The Bengals had an unusually productive free agency in 2018, bringing in two players from the Bills that could fill some gaping holes in the lineup. Though linebacker Preston Brown might seem the most pertinent signing in this case, signing left tackle Cordy Glenn was no small victory. With a proven veteran joining the embattled Bengals’ line, Marvin Lewis may choose to look to other positions early on in the draft. With that said, linebacker still is a big need, especially with another Burfict suspension on the way.
If the Bengals don’t use a Round 1 or 2 pick on the linebacker position, the team could look to further bolster the linebacker position with the tough, quick, and intelligent Fred Warner. The 4-star recruit out of Souther California was sought after by almost every major college program on the west coast. Now, he is only projected to go as high as the fourth or fifth round, but the Bengals have four picks in that range. While players typically drafted in those rounds don’t become starters right away, the Bengals used picks in those rounds to take Carl Lawson and Jake Elliott last year. Both turned out to have great rookie campaigns, albeit not necessarily for the Bengals.
Fred Warner Scouting Profile:
Weight: 236 pounds
College: Brigham Young
Projected Round: 4-5
40-yard dash: 4.64 seconds
Bench press: 21 reps
Vertical jump: 38.5”
Broad jump: 119”
Cone drill: 6.9 seconds
Total tackles: 262 career; 87 in 2017
Tackles for a loss: 32.5 career; 9 in 2017
Sacks: 6.5 career; 1 in 2017
Interceptions: 7 career; 1 in 2017
Fumbles forced/recovered: 5/3 career; 1/1 in 2017
At first glance, Warner looks like a typical pass-rushing linebacker. A closer look shows that he has the range and athleticism to play all over the field. Though he commonly lined up at the line of scrimmage, he has the instincts and quickness to weave through traffic and make tackles downfield, sometimes on the opposite side of the field.
Warner’s instincts are off the charts. He constantly found his way in opposing backfields while collecting 13 passes defended and 12 turnovers over his career. He had a good sense of where the ball was and was quick to slip past blockers to get there.
While warner was good at making contact in open space, he would sometimes make arm tackles, which is a bad habit to see out of a rookie entering the NFL. Additionally, sometimes if a play appears to be over, Warner has a tendency to check out and avoid contact. Again, this is not something you want to see out of a young prospect, especially in the AFC North where being tough on defense isn’t optional.
All in all, Warner is a good prospect with raw potential and a few bad habits. There is nothing missing from Warner’s physical game; in fact, his physicality is his largest upside. His athleticism gives him the ability to play a number of positions and with good coaching, he could become a solid NFL starter. If he is fortunate to have a good coach who can break his bad habits, he should develop into a reliable NFL linebacker.
His bad habits caused his draft stock to tank, so the Bengals might be able to find a gem in the fourth or fifth round. Given the depth of defensive coaches in Cincinnati, including Marvin Lewis himself, the Bengals should know that they are drafting a project if they go with Warner. But if they invest some hard work into him, he could be a star.