The Bengals entered the offseason with a big need at linebacker, but did not make the position a top priority in free agency.
However, in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Bengals addressed the position by selecting former Wyoming Cowboy Logan Wilson. He was the first of three linebackers that the Bengals would select; all of whom were known in draft circles for their prowess in pass defense.
Not only did the Bengals triple-down at a position of need in a deep draft class, they selected those who had the most valuable skillset for the modern NFL. With luck, they’ve begun to establish quality depth at the position for the next few years, starting with the linebacker they chose first.
Hometown: Casper, WY
Wilson is expected to sign a four-year rookie contract worth just under $5 million. He has not yet signed.
Wilson was a four-year starter at linebacker for the Cowboys and totaled 409 tackles in his collegiate career. He is an excellent tackler, whose technique is reminiscent of Bengals’ 2019 third-round selection Germaine Pratt, with whom Wilson will eventually be paired. He has the speed to run sideline-to-sideline and make plays all over the field.
But what stands out about Wilson is his ability in coverage. He has somewhat limited experience in man coverage, but makes up for it as a highly skilled zone defender. He makes great reads and breaks quickly on the ball. He had four interceptions in 2019, topping off a 10-interception career at Wyoming.
Logan Wilson reads the QB and jumps the route pic.twitter.com/07WieiIypz— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) April 25, 2020
Outlook for 2020
Linebacker has been a need in Cincinnati for years and the response has been to put a Band-Aid on it and kick the problem down the road with a series of one-year deals.
For example, the Bengals signed Karlos Dansby in 2016. Dansby was an excellent linebacker, but by the time he got to Cincinnati, he was 34 years old.
The following year they signed Kevin Minter to a 1-year deal. Minter was younger, but not the athletic answer the Bengals were looking for.
In 2018, they brought in Preston Brown, who had been a productive run-stopper the previous year in Buffalo. Unlike the others, Brown was re-signed at the end of the season, but at the time the Bengals were in the middle of a staff change. Brown would start the following season, but was released midway through the season and replaced with Pratt.
The Bengals’ other primary starter at the position in 2019, Nick Vigil, left in free agency following the season. The Bengals had interest in free agent linebackers like Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez, and Nick Kwiatkoski, but not wanting to over-pay and liking the depth at the position in the draft, the Bengals passed on the first wave of free agency at the position before later adding Josh Bynes, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens.
Bynes and Pratt are a talented pair, but the strength of both is in run defense. Wilson stands out in pass defense, and that is where he is likely to make the biggest impact in his rookie campaign.
Wilson could be used situationally early in the season. The team could substitute Wilson for Pratt or Bynes when they are in their nickel package in obvious passing situations or use him as their sole linebacker in the dime package.
Although, like Pratt before him, he could eventually step into a starting role. It is Wilson’s coverage ability that will give him the best chance to get on the field early. He is an excellent player and his coverage ability makes him a better fit for the modern NFL than the players the team signed as free agents in years past.
Wilson could be the long-term answer that we have waited for.
The third-round selection will absolutely make the Bengals 2020 roster and will likely be a contributor on defense at some point and possibly earn a starting role in his rookie season.
Roster Odds: 99%