The Cincinnati Bengals have had a busy offseason, but amidst all the roster changes they’ve made, they’ve largely left the linebacker position alone. This could be an indicator that they like what they saw in the young linebackers they selected in 2019 and 2020.
One of those young linebackers is Akeem Davis-Gaither.
A fourth-round pick from last year’s draft, Davis-Gaither played a large role in substitution packages and on special teams last season. Could he step into a starting role on defense in 2021?
College: Appalachian State
Hometown: Thomasville, NC
Experience: two years
Davis-Gaither is going into the second year of his four-year $4.1 million rookie contract. He will make $780,000 in base salary this season and count as just under $1 million against the cap.
Akeem Davis-Gaither turned a lot of heads at the 2020 Senior Bowl and quickly became a favorite of many draft analysts. He is a special athlete at the linebacker position, which is something that the Bengals were in desperate need of when they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
There was the question of how he projected to the NFL. He is a bit undersized and didn’t play a true linebacker position at Appalachian State. With the Mountaineers, he played a hybrid role that was a little bit slot corner, a little bit edge defender, and not much linebacker. This could actually be a great fit for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s scheme. He loves versatile defenders who he can use in multiple roles. This gives him the ability to run the same defensive scheme with different defensive personnel on the field.
Last season, Davis-Gaither played a significant role on third downs, when he and fellow rookie Logan Wilson would regularly come in as substitutes. This is particularly interesting because it was reported that linebackers coach Al Golden was responsible for third down defensive calls this season. Davis-Gaither made his first career start when the Bengals employed a true 4-3 defense against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.
Davis-Gaither played 30% of the team’s defensive snaps and 64% of the team’s special teams snaps in 2020. He had 31 tackles and one interception in his rookie season. He showed excellent potential to develop into a larger role.
Outlook for 2021
Many Bengals fans wanted to see the team sign a veteran linebacker, but the team has a lot of young talent at the position. Linebacker is a difficult position and young players need to get on the field to catch up to the speed of the game. They need to play. It is time to see who can get the job done.
Wilson and third-year player Germaine Pratt are the projected starters heading into training camp. After plateauing in his second year, Pratt may find himself on a short leash and Davis-Gaither could have a chance at usurping his starting role.
Remember that Davis-Gaither was not a true in-the-box linebacker in college. This means that his learning curve could shoot up dramatically with some experience. Even if he does not become a starter, Davis-Gaither will likely play a larger role in substitution packages than he did last season.
His athleticism and position versatility could make him a very productive part of this defense. Although they play different positions, he can do a lot of the same things that Vonn Bell does in this defense. They could do anything with him, from covering slots to rushing the passer to playing a more traditional linebacker role.
Davis-Gaither enters his second season after showing promise in year one. He is a virtual shoo-in to make the final roster.
Roster Odds: 99%