The Cincinnati Bengals made upgrading and overhauling their defense a priority during free agency and the NFL Draft. Rookie linebacker Logan Wilson was their highest defensive draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and brings a blend of speed and explosion to defensive co-ordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit.

There is no escaping the fact that 2019 was a poor season for the Bengals defense. In almost every conceivable statistic that can be used to measure defensive play, the Bengals figured in the bottom half of the NFL.

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Defensive disaster for the Bengals in 2019?

Their 6299 total yards given up were the fourth-most in the NFL. The Bengals’ inability to stop the run was particularly noticeable as they were trampled to the tune of 2382 yards, the most that any team allowed on the ground. They also allowed the sixth-most rushing touchdowns in the NFL in 2019.

39.8% of drives against the Bengals resulted in a score in 2019, with their 420 points conceded ranking as the eighth-worst in the NFL. They forced the fourth-least turnovers in the league, further reinforcing that they were unable to stop anyone, anyhow, last season.

It all makes for difficult reading for head coach Zac Taylor and his DC, Anarumo

As is often the case, however, statistics don’t tell the full story. The Bengals’ defense was awful, but it was a transitional year of sorts. Anarumo had a history of success at Miami and Purdue using a hybrid 3-4 system that utilized different defensive fronts but didn’t have the players in place to make it work during his first year in Cincinnati.

The focus over the off-season was to find the players that would make it work. Most notably, it required a shift in the franchise’s philosophy at the linebacker position. The days of a 250lbs behemoth like Vontaze Burfict are long gone. Anarumo’s system requires a more mobile linebacker who can not only defend against the run and get after the quarterback but also adept at providing coverage in space.

Rookie linebacker Logan Wilson is the perfect solution

Before examining Wilson’s athletic profile to show how he fits perfectly into the Bengals defense, a brief foray into his football background gives an insight into what he will bring to the Bengals.

A Casper native, Wilson played his high school football at Natrona County High School. A part of two Class 4A State Championship winning teams, Wilson demonstrated his football versatility playing as a punter, defensive back, and wide receiver, receiving All-State honors at all three positions. With seven receiving touchdowns and six interceptions, Wilson showcased his ball skills at a young age.

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Despite interest from Colorado, Wilson opted to stay close to home and committed to the University of Wyoming as a safety. After redshirting his freshman year, Wilson transferred to the linebacker position in 2016 and has been dominant for the Cowboys at the position ever since.

Over his four playing seasons, he has amassed 409 total tackles which rank third all-time in the Mountain West Conference. Of those, he has 34.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks with five career forced fumbles. His four interceptions in 2019 ranked second in the Mountain West and took him to 10 career interceptions.

A Second Team All-American by USA Today, Wilson garnered attention at the 2020 Senior Bowl before being invited to the NFL Combine.

Relative Athletic Score breakdown of rookie linebacker Wilson

The numbers from the NFL Combine verified what was apparent from Wilson’s game tape. He is exceptionally athletically gifted. Using Relative Athletic Score (RAS), we can show how this athleticism will make him a perfect fit in the Bengals defense under Anarumo.

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Wilson received an overall RAS of 8.83 from the NFL Combine. He combined great speed with good size, explosion, and agility grades. His explosion grade would have been great had it not been for a 32-inch vertical jump that is considered poor for the linebacker position.

Speed and explosion are two of the most important physical attributes for the modern-day NFL linebacker

They also have to be able to change direction quickly. A good indicator of a player’s ability to react and read quickly whilst moving laterally is the short shuttle drill at the NFL Combine, which Wilson ran in 4.27 seconds, showing good agility.

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Wilson compares favorably from an agility standpoint with Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. Whilst receiving a higher overall RAS of 9.39, Wagner ran a marginally slower short shuttle and 3-cone drill than Wilson.

How does Wilson compare to the rest of the Bengals linebacker group?

Firstly, only Brady Shelton and Jordan Evans have a higher overall RAS than Wilson. Evans’ 9.47 RAS is made up of elite speed, as well as great explosion and agility, but at 232lbs received an okay size grade. The same can be said of Shelton, whose RAS of 9.18 combined elite speed and explosion. However, at only 220lbs and with just 15 bench press reps lacks the strength of Wilson.

Wilson’s fellow rookies in the linebacker room didn’t perform at the combine due to injury, but Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey both lack the size that Wilson brings to the table. Davis-Gaither tipped the scale at 224lbs, giving him a poor weight grade at the linebacker position.

Other than Shelton and Evans, Wilson has a higher RAS than the rest of his more experienced colleagues. Josh Bynes (5.49 RAS), Germaine Pratt (8.51 RAS), and Austin Calitro (7.63 RAS) all ran slower short shuttle and jumped shorter broad jumps than Wilson, making him one of the most agile and explosive players on the Bengals roster in 2020.

How does Wilson fit in the Bengals defense?

As per ESPN, Wilson is projected to be the Bengals starting strongside linebacker for the 2020 season. He is the highest drafted player in the Bengals linebacker room, with the 65th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, and is surrounded by a mix of later-round selections and undrafted free agents.

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It is also an inexperienced unit, with Bynes being the only player that entered the league prior to 2017.

Wilson’s athletic profile fits perfectly with how the Bengals will use their linebackers in 2020. He has the speed to get after the quarterback in a system that blitzed the QB on 32.5% of plays in 2019, the 10th most in the NFL.

He has the agility to stop runners in the open field for a unit that desperately needs to improve against the run

With a greater emphasis on coverage ability for linebackers in the Bengals defense, Wilson has shown throughout his high school and college football career that he is more than capable of consistently making plays that result in turnovers, something that the Bengals sorely need.

Heading into NFL training camps, a lot of focus will be on the Bengals and number one overall draft pick Joe Burrow. However, the impact of rookie linebacker Wilson on the defense may be just as important for the Bengals.