The Cincinnati Bengals continued their rebuild of the defense in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft, and by the end of the three-day event, they had three new linebackers.
After taking Wyoming’s Logan Wilson in the third round Friday, Cincinnati selected Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither at No. 107 overall to start off the fourth round on Saturday, then capped its draft with the selection of Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey at No. 215.
The Bengals added Notre Dame defensive end Khalid Kareem, who could potentially play outside linebacker as well, in the fifth round at No. 147 before turning back to the offense in Round 6, taking Kansas offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji at No. 180.
In loading up on linebackers, Cincinnati was able address an area the AFC North especially exposed as a weakness in the team’s defense last year.
Wilson, Davis-Gaither and Bailey join 2019 third-round pick Germaine Pratt and former Ravens middle linebacker Josh Bynes, who signed in free agency, as players the Bengals will count on to solve that.
“I think we’ve accomplished that with both of the (linebacker) guys we’ve taken so far,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said after Davis-Gaither was selected in the fourth round. “…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.”
Davis-Gaither, a Thomasville, N.C., native, was the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior after recording 104 tackles, 14.5 for loss, five sacks, one interception and eight pass breakups in 14 starts. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the third game of the season but continued playing through it and held off on surgery until last month.
Anarumo said that wasn’t a concern for the Bengals, and Davis-Gaither expects to be cleared in two and a half weeks. He’s already doing some running.
Perhaps that would have been a concern if the Bengals staff hadn’t spent a whole week with Davis-Gaither during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. He was on the Cincinnati-coached South Team and the Bengals scouted both him and Wilson there.
“He’s a tough kid,” Anarumo said of Davis-Gaither. “He’s a coach’s son (Army wide receivers coach Keith Gaither). He’s a guy that really is first one in a meeting, last one out of a meeting. We had a situation during the game where the other team ran a power play that he kind of mis-fit. Coach (Al) Golden got him on the sideline and then in the fourth quarter they ran the same play and he fits it perfect. I think he’s a guy that’s gonna work his tail off to do whatever we ask, and he brings a ton of athleticism. We’re happy with the value that we got at this point.”
Davis-Gaither said his agent had told him he might be an early third-round pick, so when he saw the Bengals select Wilson at No. 65, he didn’t think he would end up with them. Friday turned out to be a long, somewhat disappointing night.
The versatile linebacker – he’s played in the box and on the outside – said he was glad he didn’t have to wait long on Day 3 and was happy to join the Bengals after a positive experience with them at the Senior Bowl.
“I just tried to let it play its part, try to go in with a clear head and just let it take its own course,” Davis-Gaither said. “… I always carry that chip on my shoulder. If I would have went in the second round, it doesn’t matter because I know there are people out there doubting me. I just want to prove them wrong.”
Anarumo said that although Wilson and Davis-Gaither both come from smaller conferences, they both showed at the Senior Bowl they could compete with guys from Power 5 conferences.
“They showed down at the Senior Bowl that they fit right in with those guys from all those power conferences,” Anarumo said. “I’ll go back to that. Those guys did not flinch when they’re going against kids from LSU or Clemson or Michigan. It didn’t matter. We got a good feel for that down there.”
Kareem also was invited to the Senior Bowl but could not participate because of a shoulder injury suffered against Duke last season. He still played and started all 13 games for the Fighting Irish, tying for the team lead with 5.5 sacks among his 46 total stops, before undergoing surgery to repair the torn labrum in January. He expects to be 100 percent by training camp.
A team captain in 2019 and also the son of a high school football coach, Kareem believes his biggest assets are his effort and preparation. Anarumo likes his versatility and raved about his 84-inch wingspan.
“That’s definitely something I try to put into my game,” Kareem said when asked about his reach. “Just using my stabs, my long arm. I feel like that helped me a lot because a lot of guys aren’t using to seeing that length when it comes to a pass rusher so when I get my opportunity I definitely try to leave my mark.”
Adeniji was another Senior Bowl player who participated on the North Team. He was a Big 12 honorable mention pick after 12 starts at left tackle in 2019, while also earning a captain’s letter.
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Adeniji could play guard or tackle and he played on both sides of the line at Kansas. Although it’s not common for late-round offensive linemen to make an immediate impact in the NFL, Callahan said a guy like Adeniji could push the competition. He sees the right guard and right tackle spots both being competitive this year.
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