During a linebacker draft defined by two small speedsters at the top, one look at the backer the Bengals selected Friday night showed why they were content to wait until the third round to take one they believe can compete to start on Opening Day at any of the three spots.
North Carolina State's Germaine Pratt goes 6-2 and a half and 240 pounds and blistered the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. Devin Bush, who went with the 10th pick to the Steelers, goes 5-11, 234 pounds, shot through the 40 in 4.43. Each have about 32-inch arms. The Bengals love Bush and know they have a formidable foe twice a year for the foreseeable future. But they also like their backers bigger and they feel like Pratt has the blend of size and speed they need to upgrade their thinnest position on the team.
"They all do things a little bit differently. They all bring certain skill sets," said Lou Anarumo, savoring his first pick as the Bengals defensive coordinator. "This kid is bigger than those two guys. This kid has longer arms than those two guys. He's about a 10th of a second slower (in the 40-yard dash). He'll bring the same physical mindset that those two other players have. I think there are measurables, but this kid is bigger and longer, which aids to playing linebacker at this level. He may have a few more things than those other two guys."
Pratt checks a lot of boxes. He's fast, physical, big, plays hard, wants to lead and called the defensive signals despite moving to linebacker just two years ago.
The week linebackers coach Tem Lukabu got the job back in February, he was at the NFL scouting combine where he says he had his eyes opened by Pratt's size and speed. So he made sure he went to Raleigh the night before his pro day, took him to dinner and spent a bunch of time with him in the classroom. When he left, he thought he had his guy and he would have been surprised if he lasted to No. 72 a month ago.
"For my part, I was impressed with his tools and I wanted to make sure his brain matched those tools and it did," Lukabu said. "He's an Alpha. He wants to be a commander, but he knows he has to come in and work."
Pratt took a phone call in the swirl of a family gathering in Atlanta and the High Point, N.C. graduate left no doubt he's got the passion for the position and compared his razor-edge mindset to former Bengals WILL backer Vontaze Burfict.
"I'm physical. I'm versatile. Great motor," Pratt said. "I can cover tight ends. I don't really watch other guys. I used to watch Ed Reed, but I'm trying to make my own legacy."
The Bengals like the legacy he helped build at N.C. State and he knows what building a culture means as rookie head coach Zac Taylor crafts one with his first draft.
"I'm great at being proud of that. In my (recruiting) class in 2014, we tried to start a foundation and start a culture," Pratt said. "So 2014 was a huge class for us. I redshirted, so it took me an extra year there. So I'd say yeah, it was huge for us."
He's an Ed Reed guy because he was a safety until they switched him to linebacker the last two seasons. When he started for the first time this year he climbed up the rankings with six sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, seven hits on quarterbacks and 101 tackles. While some gurus think he has to improve in coverage and can only play on early downs until he develops, the Bengals believe they've got a three-down player who not only hits, but runs and is a factor in the pass game.
"A lot of guys cover, but they're not comfortable," Lukabu said. "And this kid is. It's in his background. The exciting thing to me is he brings in the potential to play on day one and that means everybody else in the room has to rise."
He's called an off-the-ball linebacker, but Lukabu says he can do it. He wouldn't dismiss a potential Opening Day starting lineup in Seattle of Pratt at WILL, Nick Vigil at SAM and Preston Brown in the middle. Anarumo also sees him as a potential nickel as well as playing first and second down.
"I don't see that being a problem for the guy," Anarumo said. "Again, that size and the length is what you look for in guys to be able to cover tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. We'll see. He's going to be a rookie, and like every rookie player — whatever position it is — you want to see what they're able to do early and do well early, so that they don't lose confidence. You want to get them going in the right direction. We'll see where things are going, and we'll put him where we can most benefit him and us at the same time."
Lukabu thinks Pratt may check the biggest box of all.
"He's not at his ceiling," Lukabu said. "Sometimes you get a guy and we love him, but he's at the top of his game. But this guy has a little bit more to go because the linebacker position is not necessarily new, but there are still some intricacies that will help him take it to the next level."
Check out some of the top images from the Bengals' 2019 3rd round pick, LB Germaine Pratt from NC State.