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2017 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Philosophy

Injuries to its best players in the passing game led to the 2016 Bengals posting the third-highest ratio of rushing touchdowns to passing touchdowns in the NFL. In 2017, both Green and Eifert should return, which will help the passing offense convert yards into points. Still, with a pair of solid running backs already on the roster and a highly-drafted rookie joining them, the Bengals seem to be indicating a desire to keep leaning on the run going forward.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): A.J. McCarron, Jeff Driskel

Starting QB: Much like his AFC North opponent in Baltimore, Dalton appears to be a "he is who he is" player. There are six seasons of sample size that show he's a capable but unspectacular quarterback who has shown flashes of top-end production but hasn't been able to sustain those levels. In 2016, he was stunted by injuries to most of his offensive weaponry; he began the season without Tyler Eifert (who played just eight games) and ended it without A.J. Green (who played 10). Giovani Bernard also only played 10 games. In fact, Cincinnati had zero 1,000-yard players (rushing or receiving) in 2016. Losing playmakers hurts quarterbacks, but some of the game's best are able to overcome that and still produce high-level stats with otherwise ordinary skill players. Dalton is very unlikely to ever become that kind of player.

Backup QB: McCarron is one of the league's more sought-after backup quarterbacks despite a small sample size of only three regular season starts and one postseason start in his career. He's a smart player but ultimately limited in terms of skill set and arm talent. If the mostly-durable Andy Dalton (whose only missed games in his career are those started by McCarron mentioned above) were to be hurt, McCarron would be a serviceable backup who would maintain most of the production of his skill position players.

Running Backs

Starter: Jeremy Hill
Backup(s): Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon [R], Cedric Peerman, Brandon Wilson [R]
Fullback(s): Ryan Hewitt

Starting RB: Hill's yardage totals in his three seasons have gone from 1,124 to 794 to 839. His carry totals are 222, 223, and 222. Back-to-back underwhelming seasons and the selection of Joe Mixon in Round 2 puts Hill in a much more tenuous position than what he has experience thus far in his young career. Hill and Giovani Bernard have always been a "thunder and lightning" type of pair, but Mixon profiles as being versatile enough to handle between-the-tackles power and also catch passes out of the backfield. Hill is going to have to show vast improvement in the preseason to fend off Mixon.

Backup RBs: Jeremy Hill isn't the only incumbent back in Cincinnati whose role is threatened by what the team did in the draft. Bernard tore his ACL in November (Week 11) but was disappointing before then. The team's use of Bernard has always been perplexing; the offense always seems more dynamic with him involved, but he's still very much a part-time player. His 2017 usage will depend on many factors, foremost of which is his health. Per a February report, he'll likely avoid the PUP list but could miss the first couple games as he rehabs his knee. Another deciding factor in Bernard's play is the second-round selection of Mixon. His off-the-field issues are well-publicized. Would Cincinnati welcome the "P.R. nightmare" if they didn't plan to utilize Mixon right away? Peerman has been a special teams player for most of his career and will likely continue to contribute there more than on offense. Wilson is a sixth-round rookie who played cornerback, running back, and returned kicks in college. He's a freak athlete who ran a 4.36 forty at his Pro Day and should be used on special teams right away but has a lot to learn before becoming an offensive contributor.

Fullback: Some in the Cincinnati organization already believe that Hewitt is the league's best fullback. He was an undrafted free agent signing before the 2014 season and last August was signed to a three-year extension through 2019. He's versatile in his ability to line up in different places on the field, but he rarely touches the ball, being utilized most as a blocker.

Wide Receivers

Starters: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell
Backups: John Ross [R], Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Josh Malone [R]

Starting WRs: Green tore his hamstring on the second play of his Week 11 game (the team's 10th game of the season). Extrapolating his nine-game statistics, Green was pacing for career highs in targets (178), catches (117), and yards (1,714). Green should have no lingering effects from the injury that cost him the final seven games of his season, especially considering he was lobbying to play the last game of the year but was held out by management. He'll be the focal point of the offense once again in 2017 and be among the favorites to lead the NFL in targets, health permitting. LaFell had a nice year statistically, falling short of only 2014 in terms of his career numbers. Much of that production, however, came after Green was lost for the season. With Green healthy, LaFell (or anyone else on the team not named Tyler Eifert) isn't going to see more than a handful of targets in any given game.

Backup WRs: Ross gives Cincinnati two top-10 NFL Draft selections at the position, but the comparisons to A.J. Green mostly end there. While Green is among the "specimens" of NFL receivers at 6'3", Ross is a 5'11" speedster known for big plays rather than volume. Ross has elite speed (he broke the combine's 40-yard dash record), but a track record of production is lacking. Ross had just 579 yards combined in 2013 and 2014 before returning from 2015 injuries to break out for 1,150 last year. The 2015 ailments were on both knees (right meniscus and microfracture surgery, left ACL tear). The injury bug is still with him, as he's recovering from a torn labrum surgery. He should be ready for camp, however, which is always important for rookies. Boyd, a second-year player, will try to hold off Ross for playing time, though both are likely to be part-time contributors due to different skill sets. Boyd is an unspectacular athlete but has plus awareness and is a good route-runner. Core is a raw athlete with great size (6'3" and 205). He saw the field late last season after Green was lost and the team was evaluating young talent. The investment in Ross and the fourth-round selection of Malone will make it harder for Core to see the field more in 2017. Malone is nearly the same size as Core (6'3" and 208) and arrived to college as a five-star recruit. He's mostly a one-trick pony, though, as a deep threat without much quickness and agility.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tyler Eifert
Backups: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft

Eifert ended 2016 with a back injury that required surgery. He's not sure he'll be ready for camp. When on the field with A.J. Green, Cincinnati has a dynamic duo, and Eifert is one of the best red zone players in the league. He'll continue to be used as such this season. Uzomah and Kroft are capable backups, but this team's tight end production is going to be almost all Eifert when health allows.

Place Kicker

Randy Bullock, Jake Elliott [R], Jonathan Brown: The Bengals finally decided to move on from Mike Nugent after a spate of missed field goal attempts last year. Randy Bullock replaced him and converted 8 of 9 field goal attempts, but the team wasn't settled on him as Nugent's replacement for 2017. They drafted Jake Elliott in the fifth round as the first kicker off of the board, so they must expect him to win the job. He made 21 of 26 attempts last year for Memphis and did not miss an extra point attempt his career. He also had over 63 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks. Mysterious Louisville soccer convert Jon Brown is also on the roster, but he has very little experience or track record as a kicker. Nugent didn't have more than 33 field goal attempts in the last five years and no matter who wins this job, they will be far from entrenched, so this is a situation to avoid in drafts.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Alex Erickson, Adam Jones

Since 2012, Cincinnati has had a strong history of using rotating two returners on both punts and kickoffs. Through 2015, those two players were Brandon Tate and Alex Jones. In 2016, Tate departed and Erickson stepped up in his place. With Jones turning 34 in September, Erickson's role stands to expand even more in 2017.

Punt Returners: Alex Erickson, Adam Jones

Jones is a fearless punt returner who is famous for his willingness to return everything. He once went eight years without calling a single fair catch. At this point, though, he is 34 and losing effectiveness even in what was the strongest part of his game, so it's most likely he'll be used solely as a change of pace to up-and-coming Alex Erickson.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jake Fisher, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, RG Andre Smith, RT Cedric Ogbuehi
Key Backups: Eric Winston, Christian Westerman, JJ Dielman, TJ Johnson, Trey Hopkins

The Bengals' line lost their starting left tackle and right guard to free agency. The line is going through a transition period and the team hopes that young tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi really step up their respective games. Left guard Clint Boling is a good player and getting him back from injury helps, as does the return of Andre Smith, who is slated to compete with Christian Westerman for the right guard spot. Center Russell Bodine has been a below average starter, and he's another one the team hopes picks up his game. Overall the Bengals' offensive line will likely dwell in the lower tier of the rankings until their tackle uncertainty gets resolved.

Team Defense

The Bengals D/ST dropped off of a cliff in fantasy leagues last year, finishing outside of the top 20 in any scoring format. While they tied for second in the league with 17 interceptions, they failed to score a touchdown on defense and finished middle of the pack with 33 sacks. The defense is mostly intact from last year, with Kevin Minter and Karlos Dansby switching spots now that Dansby is back in Arizona and Minter left in free agency for the Bengals. Domata Peko left for Denver, so the team will be counting on Pat Sims to pick up the slack. Dre Kirkpatrick was kept over bigger name free agents on the offensive line to establish complete continuity in the secondary, and the team also drafted two very talented edge rushers in Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis who could contribute in passing situations this year. If Vontaze Burfict can reverse that trend that saw him only play 26 of 48 possible games in the last three years, the Bengals D/ST could be relevant again this year, but they will begin the season the waiver wire in most leagues.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Michael Johnson, DT Geno Atkins, DT Andrew Billings
Backups: DE Will Clarke, DE Wallace Gilberry, DE Jordan Willis [R], DE Carl Lawson [R], DT Pat Sims, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Ryan Glasgow [R]

Starting DL: Defensive line has been a strong foundation for Cincinnati over the past several years and will continue to be in 2017. Bengals fans will probably miss Domata Peko more than the team will on the field. Peko was a fan favorite and the anchor of the run defense, but he will turn 34 in November. Veteran Pat Sims could see time at the position early but expectations are for second year pro Andrew Billings to step up. Billings was the team's fourth round pick last year when he basically redshirted as a rookie. The big powerful two down space eater turned 22 in March and seems set to be an excellent long term answer. In Geno Atkins the Bengals have one of the league's elite interior linemen. He is a quick and athletic player who is stout against the run. Atkins is also one of the best inside pass rushers in the game. The 2013 knee injury slowed him through the 2014 season but Atkins was back with eleven sacks in 2015 and followed it up with nine last year. If Billings proves to be what the organization expects, Cincinnati will have one of the best interior line tandems in the game. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has recorded at least 7.5 sacks every season since 2012, with a career best of 13.5 in 2015. When he fails to get to the passer Dunlap uses his 6'6" frame to block passing lanes. His 15 batted passes were the most by a lineman in 2015. With the ability to stand up versus the run as well, Dunlap is an outstanding three down end with game changing big play ability. The Bengals would like someone to step up big at the other defensive end spot. Michael Johnson is more than adequate and will continue as the starter for now. He is a stout run defender who also has a knack for batting down passes, but has exceeded 5.5 sacks just once in his eight NFL seasons.

Backup DL: Quality depth up front is a big plus for the Bengals. At end they add high potential talent in the draft on a regular basis. Will Clark was their third round pick in 2014 and is coming off a career best of four sacks. He spent much of last season working as the third end in the rotation and is the player most likely to push Johnson for the starting spot. With Margus Hunt moving on in free agency the team used third and fourth round picks on outside rushers Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson respectively. Willis is a versatile player who can be moved around to take advantage of matchups. Both rookies played outside linebacker at the college level which gives defensive coordinator but Paul Guenther a lot of options, including some 3-4 looks. Willis could see some work on early downs as a run stuffing strong side backer while Lawson could add some juice as a rotational pass rusher. The organization brought back Wallace Gilberry to provide veteran depth. He will serve well in that capacity but is no threat to become anything more. In veterans Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson the Bengals have a pair of proven players who would be starters for some teams. Both are space eating run defenders but neither has much to offer as a pass rusher, nor is there any untapped upside. Rookie fourth round pick Ryan Glasgow can play either interior position. He is a tough, high effort player who was able to dominate on the inside at times while playing with Michigan. Lacking pass rush likely limits Glasgow to a rotational early down role at best.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Vontaze Burfict, SLB/MLB Nick Vigil, SLB/MLB Kevin Minter, MLB/WLB Vincent Rey
Backups: SLB Paul Dawson, WLB Marquise Flowers, MLB Jordan Evans [R]

Starting LBs: The Bengals have been serviceable yet unspectacular at the second level in recent years. It is not clear what they will look like at linebacker come September but the organizations believes they may finally have something special. The only player clearly locked into a position is Vontaze Burfict who will line up on the weak side. If he can keep his emotions in check and his head on straight, Burfict has the potential to be one of the best at the position. He is fast, has excellent anticipation, is sometimes too physical for his own good, and has a knack for the big play. Past regressions in terms of on field outbursts and dangerous hits have him on thin ice with the commissioner's office though. Cincinnati gave Rey Maualuga his walking papers early in the offseason. They then added former Cardinals starter Kevin Minter via free agency. Minter is a younger version of Maualuga in many ways. A physical run defender with average at best cover skills. The wildcard here is second year man Nick Vigil who made a big impression on the coaching staff last year and has created quite a buzz. Vigil impressed during the preseason and continued to do so when he got on the field in a limited capacity later in the year. It is widely speculated Maualuga was released in a large part to make room for the youngster in the lineup. Chances are both Vigil and Minter will be on the field on early downs with one lining up in the middle and the other on the strong side. Vincent Rey has been the utility linebacker for the Bengals over the past four seasons. He is a versatile/capable player with the ability to perform well at any of the linebacker positions. He may not have a base package role this year if everyone stays healthy, but excellent cover skills should keep him in the mix in passing situation sub packages.

Backup LBs: Should one of the starters be lost, Vincent Rey would be the first option as a replacement. If there is need to go further into the depth chart the Bengals are still solid though they would be lacking in experience. Paul Dawson was the team's third round pick in 2015. At one time it was thought he may be the guy to push Maualuga out of a job. Dawson can play on the strong side if called upon but is most comfortable in the middle. He is a bit undersized and lacks game experience, but has the ability to step in and do a solid job. Marquise Flowers was the Bengals sixth round selection in 2014. Like Dawson he has not seen the field much. Flowers has an excellent size/speed combination and is capable of playing either outside position. He can also contribute as a situational outside pass rusher. Rookie sixth round pick Jordan Evans will make his contribution on special teams for now. He could develop into more at some point but is not likely to get on the field much otherwise in 2017.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Adam Jones, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Shawn Williams, S George Iloka
Backups: CB William Jackson III, CB/FS Josh Shaw, S Derron Smith

Starting DBs: Cincinnati may not have a lot of star power in the secondary but they are a deep and talented unit. Their top three corners are all former first round picks. Dre Kirkpatrick is the prototypical lead corner. He is a fast, athletic playmaker who can run with speedy receivers. He checks in at 185 pounds but at 6'3", can be physical enough to match up with big strong receivers as well. Adam Jones joins Kirkpatrick in base packages. Jones will be 34 years old in September but can still play at a high level. His big play production dipped a little last year however. The Bengals signed him to an extension this offseason and are counting on getting at least one more good year out of him. Along with the potential for a drop off in play due to age, Jones is an emotional player who sometimes struggles to keep his focus. Darqueze Dennard is the nickel corner though he does not always work in the slot. He brings a good combination of size, speed and cover skills to the table. The 2014 first round pick is the likely successor to Jones as a base package starter and may push for the job this season. Cincinnati inked free safety George Iloka to a contract extension last year. He is a solid if unspectacular starter who has never made much of a statistical impact. Iloka will be joined in the lineup by 2013 third round selection Shawn Williams. Williams played sparingly in his first two seasons before seeing an increased workload over the second half of 2015. He made the most of the opportunity and opened 2016 as a starter. Williams led the Cincinnati secondary in tackles last year while tying for the team lead in picks with 3. The coaching staff was again impressed with his play on the field while Williams also emerged in a leadership role. He should be a fixture in the Cincinnati secondary for the next several years.

Backup DBs: The Bengals always seems to have quality secondary depth and this year is no different. William Jackson III was the team's first round selection in 2016. His rookie season was washed out due to an offseason pectoral injury. Thus Jackson is like having an additional first round rookie in the mix. The organization likes to bring their young corners along slowly, so unless he simply blows the coaching staff away Jackson will be the fourth corner in 2017. Like Kirkpatrick, Dennard and a couple of other former Bengals first round corners (Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph) before them, Jackson will be groomed for a year or two before stepping into a major role. He is expected to be the eventual replacement for Jones. For now the Bengals have peace of mind knowing an injury at corner would not be a huge setback. Josh Shaw is a free safety with the ability to do a more than serviceable job at corner if called upon. When Jackson was lost last season, Shaw shifted into a role as the fourth/dime corner where he performed admirably. His versatility as a two position backup may allow the Bengals to keep one less defensive back and use the roster spot on a different position. Safety Derron Smith was the team's sixth round in 2015. He has seen little playing time thus far but has the potential to develop into a starter at some point. For now he will continue to make his living as a special team maven where he has excelled.

Last modified: 2017-05-25 02:53:04