One of the biggest questions for the Cincinnati Bengals going into the 2023 NFL season is how the defense will recover after losing several big-name players. We will see many new faces playing huge snap counts who have rarely (if ever) seen the field for the Bengals.
One player who can help make sure there is as little drop-off as possible is a linebacker everyone expected to be a free-agency casualty due to the business side. Germaine Pratt — aka Playoff P — has been rock solid during Cincinnati’s recent string of successful seasons, and his presence in the middle of this defense can not be overstated.
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 250 lbs.
- Age: 27
- College: North Carolina State
- Hometown: High Point, NC
- Experience: 5 years
Pratt re-signed with the Bengals this off-season. He agreed to a 3-year contract worth up to just over $20 million, according to Over the Cap. He will take up roughly $5.4 million in cap space (2.4 percent) during 2023.
This puts Pratt in that tier of linebackers below the “stars” who never leave the field. This deal hopefully also leaves room for his teammate Logan Wilson to sign an extension soon to keep these running mates together for the near-term future.
Pratt was a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft for Cincinnati. He went 72nd overall and started in the final eight games of his rookie season. He has held onto that starting role as long as he has been healthy since.
One place Pratt made a huge improvement this season was in coverage, where Pro Football Focus gave him an 87.2 grade, which put him at No. 3 among linebackers with at least 400 passing snaps.
Pratt may not grade out well in other areas, but it is clear when watching the game he plays beyond his grade a lot of the time. The viciousness he tackles with rarely allows a ball carrier to fall forward, his constant effort to rip the ball out (which ultimately turned the tides during the team’s regular season matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs), and his pre-snap recognition to get into position to simply blow up plays before they begin are hard to miss. He definitely qualifies as an unsung hero on this defense.
Pratt still has the biggest play of many fans’ lifetimes when he intercepted Derek Carr to ensure the 2021 Wild Card game win that ended the Bengals’ playoff drought that had lasted nearly 30 years. He has popped up plenty more times as Johnny-on-the-spot to turn a deflected pass into a turnover.
Outlook for 2023 season
Pratt has been a veteran for almost his entire career, it feels like. He was thrust into that role in his second season when Cincinnati drafted three linebackers to fill out the room around him. He had to become a leader fast, and you can really see that click on the field now.
This is my plea for more fans to watch, specifically on him before the snap on defense. The amount of times he subtly adjusts the gap a defensive lineman is in, the coverage underneath, or even just runs to the outside knowing a quick screen or jet sweep is coming will blow your mind.
Pratt’s best attribute is his recognition and knowledge of the game. He often knows what play is coming. That subtle communication could be invaluable with a host of new faces in the secondary behind him.
There is no more Jessie Bates or Vonn Bell back there. We don’t know what we will see from Nick Scott, Dax Hill, or even Jordan Battle quite yet. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will be cooking up some whole new looks with these guys, but the foundation that is held together by Pratt, D.J. Reader, and Wilson up front will be a huge luxury.
Even having Pratt on the sideline to help talk through how the offense will be attacking their coverage is huge. Subtle things like making sure they don’t fall for coming up on curl/hook routes and leaving crossers open behind them is something fans may never appreciate. However, that is a huge difference between a punt and points.
This season, whatever fans still have any doubt about Pratt will learn to appreciate his presence and his knowledge, because if this defense doesn’t fall off, his performance and leadership will be a huge part of their success.