Since the conclusion of the NFL season and the beginning of mock draft season, LSU linebacker Devin White has been the most popular first-round pick by experts for the Bengals, and it’s easy to see why.
White is the consensus top top linebacker in this year’s NFL Draft class, and Cincinnati’s monumental need at the position has really held their defense back for numerous seasons. White has pretty much everything that the Bengals haven’t had at linebacker in recent history; natural speed and explosion, the ability to cover tight ends and running backs and also blitz as well.
However, he just blew the doors wide open at the NFL Combine. He ran the fast 40-yard dash time of any linebacker and finished with good to great times in all the other athletic drills. This caused many experts to think he may have worked his way into the top 10 of the draft, but Todd McShay’s most recent mock draft for ESPN still has White landing in Cincinnati.
There are a lot of needs here, but White is a three-down ‘backer who can play sideline to sideline. He’s one of my top prospects in the class and really impressed at the combine. The Bengals need a quarterback of the defense, and the value for White is tremendous outside of the top 10.
The team of note who passed on White that may be in need of a linebacker was the Buccaneers. They still may re-sign LB Kwon Alexander, though.
Along with Tampa Bay, the Raiders (fourth overall) and Lions (eight overall) make plenty of sense as potential landing spots for White. If White manages to slide past those teams, the Packers, who pick right behind the Bengals at 12th overall, could trade up to acquire the 21-year old prospect. They are also in desperate need to enhance their defense with elite talent, and White could easily provide that.
It should also be noted that Jawaan Taylor and Jonah Williams were both selected before the Bengals pick, which left Cincinnati looking at Cody Ford or even Andre Dillard as their best options if they wanted to upgrade at offensive tackle.
This mock unfolded pretty much perfectly for the Bengals to end up with White. Of course if Cincinnati lands a starting linebacker in free agency, it could change their perceived need at the position, but they need as much help at the position as they can get.
The uncertainty at the linebacker position is well-known for Cincinnati at this juncture. Veterans Vincent Rey and maybe even Vontaze Burfict will be both likely be gone. Preston Brown’s contract is up as well, but the team could re-sign him.
If Brown bolts for another opportunity That leaves the young trio of Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans and Malik Jefferson to battle for playing time. Hardy Nickerson is still around as well, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Regardless, there’s not enough proven talent at the position to rely on just free agency or the draft. Both avenues must be utilized.
If Cincinnati wants to invest in White to help alleviate their problems, it’s nice to see that there’s still hope of that happening.