One of Zac Taylor’s early moves as the Bengals’ head coach was to terminate the contract for Vontaze Burfict. It was a predictable decision, given Burfict’s recent decline in play and his frequency on the sidelines for a variety of reasons.
With No. 55 going off to Oakland, a notable opening at weakside linebacker needed addressing in the NFL Draft. Cincinnati used one of its usual third-round picks on one of the steadiest and well-rounded players in Pratt.
Pratt could be a guy who could play a number of linebacker spots, while sporting an enigmatic football background. One of the culture shifts from Marvin Lewis to Taylor could be in the increased willingness to play youngsters and few in this year’s crop of Bengals rookies seem to be ready right now than Pratt.
Why he could break out in 2019
There are really two reasons why Pratt could succeed in a big way this year: necessity and talent.
For the former, Burfict leaves big shoes to fill on defense. Sure, he was a shell of himself the past two seasons, but when he was healthy and had his mind right, he was one of the league’s best linebackers, not to mention the spark plug for big plays on defense.
Pratt brings a well-rounded skill set to put himself in a position to start in base packages. As a senior at North Carolina State, Pratt racked up six sacks and 104 tackles, while racking up four interceptions the previous three seasons with the Wolfpack.
And while “The Devin’s” were the most coveted players in the position group in this year’s class, Pratt may be known as the most well-rounded, as far as college tape is concerned. After a roller coaster ride with Burfict, a bit of steadiness would be a welcomed respite.
As for the latter, Pratt probably won’t be a guy who makes game-altering plays with as much frequency as Burfict, but his college tape and pre-draft workouts do show some explosiveness. Aside from the aforementioned college stats, Pratt put up a 4.57-second 40-yard dash time, as well as some decent jumps.
While those don’t wow everyone like the numbers from Devin White and Devin Bush do, Pratt was a versatile player on defense last year. He occasionally lined up on the edge and moved well in space for first-contact tackles,. Pratt also knocked away nine passes (a nod to his previous pedigree as a safety), as well as both recovering and forcing three fumbles apiece in his NCAA career.
What he needs to prove this year
When Taylor took over the Bengals’ head coaching post, he preached character from the players he put on the roster. Pratt was known as a guy who is mature and and one who could be counted upon to be in the right spot on defense.
The rookie will need to parlay that maturity into production this year. Taylor’s staff likes what Pratt brings to the table, but with his having just one true year of starting linebacker experience in college, he’ll need to be ahead of the learning curve.
Furthermore, Pratt’s seemingly well-rounded skill set would be a huge boost to a defense that has employed guys at the position with profile molds of the 1990s. For a long time, Cincinnati’s linebackers have not done well in pass coverage, but Pratt’s background could bring this facet to the defense.
Finally, Pratt will need to have the oh-so-desirable trait of availability. Whether it was Burfict’s health and antics that kept him off of the field, or the myriad of injuries that hit the group last year, Pratt will need to be a guy they can count on to be on the field for most, if not all of the season.
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