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2018 Bengals position review: Linebackers

The Bengals’ linebacking core was a mess in 2018. Is a revamp at the position inevitable?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

For quite some time, the linebacker position has been an issue for the Bengals in some manner. Whether it’s been a lack of expected development, or a lack of overall investment into the group, the position has very rarely been viewed as an asset for the Bengals’ defense in recent memory; even when the unit was amongst the very best in the league.

The 2018 season saw some of the lowest lows for linebacker play in Cincinnati in quite some time, and that’s saying something. A multitude of factors contributed to this reality, and it’ll take a multitude of moves this offseason to right the ship.

Key players:

  • Vontaze Burfict
  • Preston Brown
  • Nick Vigil
  • Jordan Evans

2019 potential free agents:

  • Preston Brown
  • Vincent Rey

2018 Summary

Vontaze Burfict started the season a few weeks late. This time his suspension was the result a PED suspension, rather than something he did on the field. He looked good in his first game back, but that was the only game he looked like himself in. Burfict was unimpressive the rest of the way and later missed the conclusion of the season due to multiple concussions.

After bringing in a washed up Karlos Dansby and Kevin Minter on one-year contracts the previous two seasons, the Bengals finally seemed to hit on a free agent linebacker with Preston Brown. Brown was noted as a good run stopper in Buffalo, but looked pretty good against the pass as well. Unfortunately, Brown also dealt with injuries and had his season cut well short.

Nick Vigil was rather pedestrian. He is not a bad player, but he just isn’t quite good enough. Fans continue to wait for Jordan Evans to develop, but that doesn't seem to be happening either.

Fans would also like, rookies Malik Jefferson and Chris Worley to develop. Both do some things well, but are a long way off. Jefferson has some raw gifts, that could manifest themselves with excellent coaching. Hardy Nickerson also played an unfortunately large role this season due to injuries in front of him. Unless he is kept around to play a role on special teams, he will likely not be retained by the new staff.

2019 Outlook and Need

The group needs to be completely reworked. Burfict has always been a pain in the you-know-what, but he was also an excellent player for a time. His antics are not worth the headache if he is going to play the way he did in 2018.

Brown looked good in the limited time he was fully healthy, but there is no guarantee the Bengals will be able to bring him back. Vigil is serviceable, but someone who the Bengals should look to eventually replace. Evans just has not developed to the level where he can contribute at a high level. Jefferson is a great wild card, he has a ton of talent, but needs a scheme that accounts for his strengths and weaknesses.

The Bengals need massive change at this position group, and they need meaningful investment to do so. For starters, they should seriously consider cutting Burfict and using the cap space they could save to bring in a quality replacement. Retaining Brown would be a wise move, and may be in the cards.

If Brown does not return they need to find two — if not three — new starters at the position. This means spending money in free agency and using a high draft pick. They would be wise to add a depth and/or developmental player to the group on day three as well. They need faster linebackers who can defend the pass and make tackles in space.