Nick Vigil, OLB, Cincinnati Bengals
Vigil’s the elder statesmen of this list—a relatively unknown fourth-year pro coming off an injury-shortened season playing for the worst defense (in yards allowed) in the NFL a year ago. As Geoff Hobson wrote for the team’s website, he’s also acclimating to the role of leader at his position in the Queen City after the departure of Vontaze Burfict.
“We were saying it’s a new look. No Vontaze. No Vinny. No Rey (Maualuga) from back when I was here early,” said Vigil. “I’ve had a lot of reps over the past two years. So, I’m pretty comfortable in there. I understand what offenses are trying to do a little more. I’m more aware of situational football.”
It’s been mostly forgotten, but over the first five weeks of last season Vigil piled up almost 50 total tackles and ranked inside the top-15 linebackers n fantasy points. He’s also far and away the best bet among a mostly unimpressive cadre where subpackage snaps are concerned. He’s going to be the leading tackler (if healthy) for a defense that will be on the field a ton in 2019.
Justin Reid, S, Houston Texans
Brian Gaine isn’t the general manager for the Texans anymore (because who needs one of those?), but while reviewing his tenure with the team Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press ranked Reid’s selection a year ago as one of Gaine’s best moves.
“To be fair to Gaine,” Pendergast said,” he was behind the eight-ball starting out as the new GM because the team had traded away its first and second round picks to draft Deshaun Watson and to dump Brock Osweiler respectively. So, his first pick wasn’t until 68th overall in the 2018 draft. Ultimately, in the two drafts Gaine handled, that pick may wind up being his best one, as he landed Reid, who is on track to become a foundational, 10-year player for the Texans, and one of the best safeties in the league, if he keeps progressing the way he did in his rookie campaign.”
That “best safeties in the league” part might be pushing it, but Reid’s a skilled young player who quietly started to come into his own late last season. The Texans let both Tyrann Mathieu and Kareem Jackson leave in the offseason. It’s a hard sell to get one to believe part of that wasn’t confidence in Reid’s ability to step up behind Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham.
Ronnie Harrison – S, Jacksonville Jaguars
Harrison’s first full NFL offseason is better known for a dust-up with Nick “Get off my lawn” Saban than anything he’s done on the practice field. However, John Reid of the St. Augustine Record wrote that Harrison appears to have picked up where he left off a year ago.
“Harrison resumed where he left off last season when he went on injured reserve with knee injury in December,” Reid said. “Defensive coordinator Todd Wash raved about his progress during the offseason program, especially his familiarity with the defensive packages and his ability to be around the ball during 11-on-11 work. Harrison looks stronger and remains agile. He’ll be counted on to secure the back end of the team’s defense after making eight starts as a rookie.”
Harrison’s numbers last year were, um, yeah…he barely cleared 30 total tackles. But much has changed since then, including Telvin Smith‘s decision to sit out the 2019 season. Even if Myles Jack has the season so many expect, the Jacksonville safeties are going to see more tackle opportunities than last year. Significantly more.
To say that’s Harrison’s the best of the lot is both true and doesn’t begin to cover it.