If you think the Bengals might go for a linebacker early in next month's NFL Draft with either picks Nos. 1 or 2, you might want to think again.
Though anything's possible, such a scenario where the Bengals jump up to select a linebacker seems remote given their demonstrated ability to find what they need at the position later in the draft and sometimes completely after the draft.
The last time the Bengals selected a linebacker in the first or second round was 2009 when they took Rey Maualuga in the second. Since then, the Bengals have drafted linebackers in rounds 4, 3, 4, 6, and 3, one every year except 2012.
The last four Bengals individual tackling titles have been claimed by undrafted linebackers. Outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict led the team in 2012 and 2013. Burfict was a college free agent signee in 2012. He was a Pro Bowl selection the next year.
Linebacker Vincent Rey, a college free agent signee in 2010, won his second straight Bengals tackles crown in 2015, totaling 95, 20 ahead of the closest challenger. The 6-foot linebacker's single-game highs of 15 tackles Oct. 4 against Kansas City and 13 on Oct. 11 against Seattle were Cincinnati's season highs for 2015. Rey had 121 tackles in 2014.
“Except maybe for the lack of a 6-3 frame as a linebacker, Vinny has everything you want in a pro player,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s got a big, strong lower body, so he’s really a bigger man than he appears, and he’s like a sponge. If you say something to him, he gets it right the first time and does it right. That’s why he gets so many tackles.”
That's why the Bengals will attempt to re-sign Rey, an impending unrestricted free agent, and keep the Rey-Rey combo intact. Rey also came up with an interception, a sack and five passes defensed in 2015. He and Burfict shared the team passes-defensed lead among Bengals front-seven players.
Clearly, to excel at linebacker in Cincinnati, draft credentials are not necessarily required.
Maualuga was second on the Bengals in 2015 with 75 tackles, one ahead of Burfict, who played in just 10 games following his return from offseason knee surgery. Maualuga played in 15 games. Burfict led the Bengals in tackles per game with 7.5. Rey averaged 6.1. Maualuga averaged an even 5 tackles per game.