2017 was not kind to Bengals linebackers.
Vontaze Burfict began the campaign with a suspension, Kevin Minter struggled to find playing time, and Nick Vigil failed to live up to expectations. All three linebackers battled injuries the entire year, and some young prospects were pressed into service.
Depth at linebacker turned out to be crucial to the Bengals’ defense, and it is an area that the Marvin Lewis and Teryl Austin have already tried to address with the signing of Preston Brown.
Cincinnati could still look to add more competition to the position group though, especially with Burfict suspended for the first four games this season. Iowa’s Josey Jewell might be a prospect that the Bengals could look to in order to boost the shell shocked defense.
Jewell is one of the most decorated players entering this year’s draft. He is Iowa’s fourth leading tackler all time, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and a consensus All-American.
Jewell also joined J.J. Watt and Luke Kuechly as a Ronnie Lott Trophy recipient, which goes to the most impactful defensive player in the country. His combination of strong leadership and athletic ability make him an intriguing prospect.
Weight: 235 pounds
Projected Round: 3-4
Tackles: 433 career; 132 in 2017
Sacks: 10 career; 4.5 in 2017
Tackles For Loss: 28 career; 13.5 in 2017
Interceptions: 6 career; 2 in 2017
Jewell is undeniably tough, which is a must for any AFC North linebacker. Once he is locked into a tackle, the ball carrier might as well just give up. He rarely misses tackles, and he always seems to make them near the line of scrimmage. Fighting for extra yardage is almost an insurmountable accomplishment against the Hawkeyes’ captian.
His confident and leadership ability made Iowa’s defense much more productive than anyone thought they would be. He helped his Hawkeyes keep the best three teams in the conference (Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State) to an average of 21 points per game with his locker room presence and his big play ability. Whenever Iowa needed a big play on defense, the precious Jewell was there to lay down a big hit or come up with a crucial stop.
In addition to his grit, Jewell’s instincts are one of his greatest strengths. He has a nose for the ball, as he racked up over 120 tackles in each of his last three years. Like Burfict is for the Bengals, Jewell is near the ball on every play, even if he himself is not making the tackle.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein calls Jewell a “film junkie,” and instincts matched with his film study give him a distinct advantage over his opponents. When rushing the passer, Jewell easily finds seams in the protection and squirts through for tackles for a loss or sacks.
In zone protection, he seems to know just where to settle to disrupt the pass. He can get off blocks to to stuff the run or to swat down passes. Jewell is a rock in the middle of the defense; offenses can do little but to find a way round him.
Unfortunately for Jewell, that is his weakness. He lacks sideline-to-sideline speed that is becoming so critical in today’s NFL game, so he will struggle to catch running backs and receivers on the sidelines. Though speed is not as much as a must-have for an inside linebacker, it is still important enough that Jewell will slide down the draft board.
In addition to making tackles outside the hash marks, Jewell will also struggle in man coverage, especially if he is matched up against a running back. His instincts and film study help him make up for some of his deficiencies in the pass game, but he will have a hard time covering downfield in the passing game.
Basically, experts are saying the same things about Jewell that they said about Vigil two years ago. Vigil was able to convert from a middle linebacker to the outside, albeit with dubious success.
However, Jewell does not possess the skill set to go through the same transition. If Jewell wants to make an NFL roster, it will have to be as a middle linebacker. Though technically a 4-3 defense, the Bengals played many snaps out of the nickle formation, eliminating a spot on the field for MIKE.
Unless the Bengals’ new defensive coordinator Austin wants to make some changes, the Bengals’ appraisal of Jewell’s value will be rather low.