The Bengals began the last day of the draft the way they ended the second one at the top of the fourth round Saturday when they continued to attack their linebacker corps by taking another projected three-down player they saw up close at the Senior Bowl in Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Akeem Davis-Gaither.
After taking Wyoming middle linebacker Logan Wilson Friday night, the Bengals appear to be looking at the future of the middle of a defense that has struggled the past three seasons both against the run and in space.
They've been looking for the so-called modern versatile linebacker and in the 6-2, 224-pound Davis-Gaither they've turned to small-school Appalachian State to help solve a big problem. His diverse stats complied during his senior season reflect what the Bengals are seeking in an AFC North they have to cover Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in space, Browns running back Nick Chubb off tackle and Steelers tight end Eric Ebron down the seam:
A total of 104 tackles and career highs in tackles for loss (14.5), pass deflections (nine), sacks (five) and interceptions (one). Even more remarkably he did it all on a partial stress fracture in his right foo suffered during the third game and was repaired last month. He says he can get back on the field in two weeks.
Davis-Gaither, the son of long-time college assistant Keith Gaither and currently the Army wide receivers coach, did much of his work at the Boone, N.C., school in space and coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Pro Football Focus says his NFL comps are speedy backers Devin White and Deion Jones.
But the Bengals were impressed with how he played in the box during that week at the Senior Bowl and not only do they think he can play three downs from scrimmage, but they believe he'll be a factor on all four kicking teams on fourth down.
That trip to Mobile, Ala., is turning out to be a bountiful junket. While the Bengals coached the South all-stars, their scouts and coaches were able to spend the week working with Davis-Gaither on the field and in the meeting rooms. Wilson played for the North team coached by the Lions, but the Bengals also had plenty of access to him.
More fortune: the stress fracture wiped out his ability to run at the NFL scouting combine, but they were able to see plenty in Mobile.
As the clock neared 10 p.m. Friday, the Bengals had just three backers on the roster. By noon Saturday it was five with possibly more in the final three rounds and in undrafted free agency.