Linebacker turned into a major issue for the Bengals in the 2018 season, and rookie Jordan Evans was unable to help stop the bleeding.
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. He 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.
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 is he ready for a starting role?
Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson indicated that Evans may very well be a Week 1 starter while Burfict serves his four-game suspension for PED use.
The Opening Day backers figure to be Preston Brown in the middle flanked by Nick Vigil at SAM and Jordan Evans at WILL.
Brown and Vigil seem like easy calls. Brown is already one of the team’s best linebacker after signing with the Bengals this offseason after a solid career in Buffalo.
Vigil showed flashes of being a good linebacker in 2016, but he was a liability more often than not in 2017. Still, his experience will give him a leg up on being the starting SAM backer again.
That leaves the weakside spot up for grabs. While you may assume Vincent Rey would get it, there’s a good case for him to come off the bench. First, he’ll get snaps at all three spots, so while he may not start, he’ll still likely play more than Evans.
Then there’s Rey being a special teams captain and having a prominent role there. That’s a lot of snaps he’s getting each game, so it may be better for him not to be that starting weakside backer while Burfict is out.
Still, 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 Vigil, who was equally horrific in his role last season.
Evans did show flashes of being a respectable player as a rookie, but not enough to assume his roster spot is safe in 2018. Let’s hope he’s ready for a bigger role in Year 2.