A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends. Now we continue with outside linebackers.
Outside linebackers lost: James Harrison, cut in March.
*The Bengals list both as linebackers, but they have been defensive ends previously.
Draft likelihood: Medium
Rounds drafted? Any
Analysis: The Bengals' plans at outside linebacker are beginning to make sense when you consider who they have added, who they have cut and who they have installed as their new defensive coordinator. This season, it's all about versatility and mobility among the Bengals' linebackers and defensive ends. With the additions of Moch and Montgomery, the defense will get a pair of second-level players who understand what it takes to beat a tight end or an offensive tackle off a block and to get to the quarterback. Both have played hybrid hand-in-dirt defensive end and standing up outside linebacker roles in the past, and it appears they will do the same in Cincinnati. It's also clear based on Paul Guenther's comments earlier this offseason that the Bengals hope to change defensive fronts often, moving their ends to the interior of the line, on occasion, and placing linebackers down there as well. You'll see a steady diet of 4-3 base fronts, but having players such as Moch and Montgomery could allow the Bengals to shift into 3-4 and nickel schemes with some regularity. Guenther was all about creativity in his previous role as linebackers coach, and it appears he'll keep that trait with this defense.
To that end, the Bengals have a draft weekend need -- not a great need, but one nonetheless -- for an outside linebacker who can be flexible enough to adapt to Cincinnati's constantly changing defense. The Bengals also seek an outside linebacker who can help cover in certain passing situations, and who can also be a special teams star, working well on punt and kickoff coverage teams. For weeks, the linebacker's name most connected to the Bengals has been Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. That is, of course, if the Bengals feel like spending their first-round pick on a linebacker. It's certainly possible the Bengals believe that is the best route to take, but it's also possible that they want to address other needs first and then circle back around to linebacker later in the draft. If that's the case, Shazier will, of course, be gone. The middle of this draft could hold hidden outside linebacker gems, though. One player who has shot up the draft boards in recent weeks and who could be a second- or third-round option is Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu. Noted for his on- and off-field smarts, he ranks as the fourth outside linebacker on ESPN's draft board. His biggest upside is causing disruption on third downs as an edge rusher. Along with Attaochu, Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence and Florida State's Telvin Smith and Christian Jones could be mid-round options.
I covered Attaochu, Smith and Jones in previous reporting gigs and see NFL potential in all three. I'm probably more a fan of Smith because he seems the most versatile and is better than the rest in coverage and special teams. His size, listed at 218 pounds, is his only real knock. Somehow he played Mike and Will linebacker at FSU at that weight. He's the same height and two pounds lighter than Bengals safety Taylor Mays, who has been used in nickel linebacker roles in the past.
Potential picks: Ryan Shazier (Ohio State), Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech), Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State), Telvin Smith (Florida State), Christian Jones (Florida State).