The Bengals needed to upgrade at linebacker and they did just that in the heart of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Cincinnati took Wyoming's Logan Wilson in round three. He's a fast, athletic player with great instincts, coverage skills and tackling ability.
They followed it up by selecting Appalachian State's Akeem Davis-Gaither in the fourth round. Much like Wilson, Davis-Gaither is fast, has great instincts, coverage skills and is a sound tackler.
The Bengals got to know both prospects in January when they coached the South team at the Senior Bowl. The insight they learned on both players not only led to them being drafted, but it could be the difference on a defense that desperately needed more talent at linebacker.
“What you walk away from the Senior Bowl with is guys you really like. It’s a no-brainer — [you see] character, work ethic, intangibles because you’ve got a chance to spend time with them," head coach Zac Taylor said. "You can start to hold some players and say, ‘This is an A-list guy. He’s a Bengal.’"
The Bengals had a high second round grade on Wilson. They were pleased that he was available at No. 65. Davis-Gaither was expected to go off the board between picks 55-75. Instead, he fell and the Bengals were pleasantly surprised to take linebackers with back-to-back picks.
"We were able to spend a ton of time around [both guys]," defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "The Senior Bowl access to both kids has been invaluable so far. We've had a chance to really hone in and know these guys better than most."
The Bengals wanted more speed and playmaking ability at linebacker. They checked both boxes with Davis-Gaither and Wilson.
"We've accomplished that with both of the guys we've taken so far," Anarumo said. "You watch Logan play on tape and he's got almost 33-inch arms and he's able to get in and out of cuts and make his plays that some guys can't. Certainly Akeem can do the same thing. Both guys give you that flexibility to be able to chase guys down but will still be stout enough to take on and shed blocks. We're happy with that."
The rookie duo will join second-year linebacker Germaine Pratt, who the Bengals selected in the third round last season.
Pratt ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and Wilson ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Davis-Gaither didn't run at the combine due to a foot injury, but he may be the fastest of the trio.
"4.5,” he said without hesitation when asked about asked 40-yard dash time on Saturday. Davis-Gaither is the lightest of the three at 224 pounds, but gives the Bengals another young, athletic linebacker with playmaking ability.
“He has some position flex, which we like," Anarumo said. "He can do both, so we can move him around a bit. He played nickel some at Appalachian State. He’s been out of the box, in the box. A guy like that can really help our special teams. He has the potential to be on the field for all four downs.”
The Bengals knew they needed help at linebacker and they got it in less than 16 hours.
“It’s huge," Anarumo said. "With the different things offenses throw at you these days, the more guys that you can have doing multiple things, saves you some roster spots and allows you to be more flexible. With a guy that can maybe cover a running back, tight end, be a good blitzer, start outside and move inside, all of those things can really help you.”