The Bengals will be considering upgrades at a variety of position groups once on the clock in the NFL Draft with linebacker being among them. While the team did add Preston Brown in the offseason, the Bengals could look to bolster the linebacking core for the future as well as the present. Vontaze Burfict has missed 17 games over the past three seasons from suspensions and injuries, so the rotational players in the Bengals linebackers room do see plenty of playing time. That means anyone the team brings in via the draft could see playing time in 2018. Just look at last season when the Bengals were down to only backups and Brandon Bell and Hardy Nickerson saw the field far-too-often.
Bringing in another linebacker would allow the Bengals to have some security when Brown’s contract is up in the offseason and offer depth during Vontaze Burfict’s suspension. Not to mention, the Bengals really just need more athletic linebackers on the team.
Jerome Baker is a prospect who has solid speed, but is on the smaller size for his position group. However, speed is one attribute coaches in the NFL can’t coach, so Baker could be a great asset due to his quickness. Currently, he’s projected to go in the third or fourth rounds.
Baker started at Ohio State for two seasons, but played in all four seasons he was in Columbus. Scouts say that Baker moves fluidly and quickly, has good footwork, and has good coverage skills which is something that the Bengals could utilize considering that some rotational linebackers have struggled with coverage. In 2017, Baker had 72 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 passes defended and 1 forced fumble which is an impressive line of stats.
Weight: 229 pounds
Position: Outside Linebacker
College: Ohio State
Projected Round: Rounds 3-5
Jerome Baker is a smaller outside linebacker whose stock has risen as the draft is approaching. With a 4.5 40-yard dash, scouts have gained more interest in Baker and the speed he brings to the field. However, for those who put more weight into film, Baker has his ups and downs. The speed is very real as Baker can get downhill and sideline to sideline quickly, but the issue comes when a blocker is standing in Baker’s way. He tends to go around blocks instead of taking them on, which causes problems in the run game. However, in the pass game, Baker does a pretty good job in man and zone coverages. His speed helps him stick with tight ends and the occasional receiver, and his ball skills are really good in the middle of the field, occasionally making a big play to take the ball away.
Against Oklahoma, Ohio State used Baker in a variety of ways, including as a spy against Baker Mayfield which helped cut Mayfield down to losing five yards on seven attempts. But the Buckeyes defense also dropped Baker deep into the secondary to cover a deep third of the field. This didn’t yield great results for the Buckeyes, but it showed how much they trusted Baker to patrol the deep middle of the field.
The Bengals might take a look at Baker if he’s available on Day 3 and the team hasn’t yet taken a player at the position. There could be too many questions about Baker’s size and how he would work in the trenches for Rounds 2 or 3. However, with Baker as a rotational or coverage sub, the Bengals could utilize him to cover one of the newest quarterbacks in the AFC North in Tyrod Taylor. Taylor averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2017 and the Browns will most likely look to utilize both Taylor’s arm and his legs in 2018 after trading for him. If Baker can spy on Taylor and match his speed, the Bengals could force the Browns into throwing more often then they’d like. Draft experts usually say that drafting for your division helps and a guy like Baker could help the Bengals win two games in the division, and two more this season when the Bengals meet the Panthers and Chiefs.
In order for Baker to improve heading into the 2018 season, he should work on his ability to shed blocks, and his strength. If he plans on playing in the NFL, adding some weight would be good, as long as he can maintain his speed. Baker compares a lot to the man he replaced at Ohio State, Darron Lee. Baker could see similar production to Lee in the NFL, but is a few pounds lighter, and just a hair slower. However, whichever NFL team takes Baker, they will look to utilize him in a similar fashion.