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2018 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Philosophy

Despite plenty of talk that the Bengals and head coach Marvin Lewis might finally part ways, the team enters 2018 with the status quo still in place. In recent years, the Bengals offense has relied heavily on a committee of running backs and a passing game that is overly reliant on receiver A.J. Green making contested catches.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): Matt Barkley, Logan Woodside [R], Jeff Driskel

Starting QB: Only one time in his seven-year career has Andy Dalton thrown for between 3,400 and 4,200 yards (3,669 in 2012). Including last season, Dalton has been below 3,400 yards four times and north of 4,200 twice - including 2016. It's a remarkable feat of inconsistency for a quarterback whose face probably appears in the NFL dictionary for the definition of "quarterback purgatory." For a few years, the talk has been that Cincinnati should move on from Dalton, even though it's clear that they could end up with an inferior player if they do. It's Dalton's ability to be head and shoulders above the bottom tier but not-even-close to the top tier that makes his so fascinating. More fascinating still is that Cincinnati allowed highly-regarded backup A.J. McCarron to walk even after Dalton's poor showing last season. While some of that can be chalked up to injuries around him, Dalton actually headed into 2017 as a bounce-back candidate due to so many injuries to his 2016 supporting cast. Dalton had A.J. Green for 16 games last season and had Joe Mixon to help his case as well. His weapons are basically the same this season as last; only Tyler Eifert's health and a John Ross leap would improve the group significantly. So while Dalton's career has seen a wide range of outcomes, little reason exists to think 2018 Dalton will be a notch above pre-2018 Dalton.

Backup QB: A middle-round pick out of a historically great college program, Matt Barkley will fill the shoes of a quarterback with a similar story - A.J. McCarron. Also like McCarron, Barkley has seen significant action in just one of his seasons so far. Barkley, however, wasn't sought-after by many in the league. While McCarron was able to sign a free agent deal with Buffalo, Barkley's 2017 free agency didn't go nearly as well. Almost no one wanted him, leaving him to sign in Arizona and see zero action last season, despite the injury to Carson Palmer. Despite being a seventh-round pick, Logan Woodside was wildly productive in college, passing for 7,887 yards and 73 touchdowns in the last two seasons. He's only 6'1" and 213 pounds, which could be what led to his late-round draft position. He'll compete with Jeff Driskel, who came out of high school in the Orlando, Florida area as one of the best athletes in a state chock-full of specimens. "Quarterback of a Will Muschamp-coached team" isn't something that has ever been good on a resume, and it wasn't for Driskel either, as he struggled mightily at Florida and transferred to Louisiana Tech. A senior year that generated 4,026 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions led to Driskel being drafted by San Francisco in the 2016 draft. After ending up in Cincinnati last preseason, Driskel showed his athleticism in the preseason, passing for 164 yards and rushing for 63 more in limited duty with the Bengals.

Running Backs

Starter: Joe Mixon
Backup(s): Giovani Bernard, Mark Walton [R], Brian Hill, Tra Carson
Fullback(s): Ryan Hewitt

Starting RB: Despite it being abundantly clear that he was the more talented player, Joe Mixon started 2017 behind Jeremy Hill. His head coach's stubbornness and a very poor offensive line led to some inconsistency by Mixon, but eventually, his talent rose to the surface and allowed him to get on the field more and more as the season progressed. He only had one 100-yard game, but he showed plenty of flashes of the multi-talented all-around weapon many thought he would be coming out of Oklahoma. A couple of late-season injuries and the lack of usage early in the year led to unremarkable stats (626 yards, 3.5 yards per carry), but his 30 catches on 34 targets (with a 9.6-yard average) were a bright spot. With Hill out of the picture and no other backs with an early-downs skill set, Mixon should be a workhorse this season. His offensive line and skill position teammates still leave much to be desired though.

Backup RBs: Giovani Bernard had a resurgent 2017, but it wasn't necessarily shaping up that way last summer. The team brought back Jeremy Hill and drafted Mixon. Coming off a career-low 91 carries in a season shortened by an ACL tear, Bernard's footing was less-than-solid on the Cincinnati depth chart. But attrition left Bernard as the only man standing. In a Monday Night Football game against Pittsburgh, Mixon went out early. With Hill already injured, Mixon also went down, leaving Bernard to carry the load. He rushed 13 times for 77 yards. He was over 5.5 yards per carry again the next week, adding six catches in the process. Then in Week 16, with Mixon hurt early, Bernard rushed 23 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, while catching 7 balls for 52 yards as well. His tenacity last season should earn him a bigger role this season. Don't be surprised if Mixon isn't the three-down workhorse. His injuries last season, combined with Bernard's performance, give the team plenty of reason to keep Bernard in the fold. In order to supplement the backfield, Cincinnati selected Mark Walton in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Walton's stock fell a bit due to a season-ending ankle injury in 2017. Cincinnati has said that they liked Walton's ability to contribute on special teams as well as being a runner, but they spoke about depth and having capable players to fill in when injuries strike, suggesting that Walton could be the two-down backup to Mixon. The 156th overall pick in last year's draft, Brian Hill was brought up from the practice squad following Jeremy Hill's season-ending injury. The fact that he saw very little action - even when so many backs ahead of him were hurt that Bernard became the bell-cow - showed that Hill wasn't ready. Vast improvement will need to be shown this offseason to impress. Tra Carson joined the NFL in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. He has exactly zero regular-season touches.

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

Wide Receivers

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

Starting WRs: After a 2016 season that was shortened by a hamstring injury, A.J. Green played all 16 games last season. While his season wasn't a bust, it wasn't "peak" Green either. 75 receptions, 1,078 yards, and 8 touchdowns should be near the low end of expectations for a 16-game season from Green. The team's offensive line led to inconsistent play from many offensive players. An improvement there will go a long way to getting Green back to his 80+ reception, 1,200-yard ways. Brandon LaFell enters his third season with Cincinnati coming off a down year in 2017. The Bengals WR2 has never been a deep well of production, but 52 catches for 548 yards from that player suggests a poor season for the offense as a whole. LaFell could eventually be surpassed on the depth chart by 2017 first-round pick John Ross if he is able to stay healthy this season.

Backup WRs: John Ross played in only three games during his rookie season due to injuries (knee and shoulder). After experiencing plenty of injury issues in college and entering the draft with multiple ailments, it was disappointing that he couldn't shed the injury bug. Ross is still one of the fastest players in the NFL if he's right. His 2018 is essentially a rookie season. At least he's ahead of the curve on learning the playbook, even if the reps aren't there. Ross spent the offseason working with former Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in an attempt to improve footwork and route-running. Josh Malone showed some potential in his rookie season, catching six passes and scoring a touchdown in the regular season. His receivers coach, James Urban, was impressed during camp last summer as well. Malone's biggest obstacles are the players ahead of him on the depth chart and the fact that Cincinnati isn't a prolific enough passing game to support multiple wide receivers. Like most of the offense, Tyler Boyd regressed in 2017 after a promising rookie season. The knock on Boyd when he was drafted was that he lacked athleticism. Not one to make "splash" plays, Boyd is best suited to be a big slot receiver. But this offense has never been one to consistently support production from receivers not named A.J. Green. Alex Erickson proved himself as a punt returner last season, which should keep him around. He also played some offense as a slot receiver. Cody Core showed well in his rookie season in 2016 but had zero catches in 2017. At 6'5" and 228 pounds, Auden Tate will have to show "my-ball mentality" and red zone acumen to find a place on the final roster. But he does provide size that is lacking in this receiver corps behind Green.

Tight Ends

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

Tyler Eifert is one the game's most effective red zone players, but back injuries have hindered him over the past two seasons. Cincinnati brought him back on a one-year deal with a maximum earning potential of $8 million, showing that they're not sold he can maintain his health. Tyler Kroft is a shell of the athlete that Eifert is, but he filled in admirably last season, catching 42 passes and 7 touchdowns while playing in every game. If Eifert's injury issues aren't solved, expect a similar season from Kroft as the primary tight end. C.J. Uzomah doesn't bring much to the table in terms of excitement. But he's a functional player who can a bit of everything.

Place Kicker

Randy Bullock, Jon Brown: Randy Bullock has been a journeyman kicker since the Texans moved on from him in 2015, but he appears to have found a home in Cincinnati after beating out 2017 fifth-round pick Jake Elliott (who went on to be a hero and win a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles). Bullock is still a dead end among fantasy kickers, attempting only field goals last year and finishing outside of the top 20 in scoring. The Bengals have made some improvements on the offensive line and should be in scoring position more in 2018, but they have rarely been a team that created among the league best numbers in opportunity for their kickers.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Alex Erickson, Joe Mixon

The Bengals under Marvin Lewis have a long history of rostering a full-time, two-way return specialist. For the past two years, that specialist has been Alex Erickson, and he's a safe bet to make it three in a row.

Punt Returners: Alex Erickson, Tyler Boyd

The Bengals under Marvin Lewis have a long history of rostering a full-time, two-way return specialist. For the past two years, that specialist has been Alex Erickson, and he's a safe bet to make it three in a row.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Clint Boling, C Billy Price [R], RG Trey Hopkins, RT Jake Fisher
Key Backups: Bobby Hart, Alex Redmond, Cedric Ogbuehi, T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman, Rod Taylor [R], Kent Perkins

The Bengals' line added two starters in the offseason. They traded with Buffalo for left tackle Cordy Glenn and selected Ohio State center Billy Price in the first round. Both should be instant upgrades over last year's starters. Left guard Clint Boling has been reliable. But the right side of Trey Hopkins and Jake Fisher will face a huge host of competition. Bobby Hart, Cedric Ogbuehi, seventh round rookie Rod Taylor and even 2017 UDFA Kent Perkins are in the mix at tackle while Alex Redmond, T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman all started games at guard last season. The Bengals' line enters the season as a low-tier option but can improve when the lineup settles.

Team Defense

The Bengals lost defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to Jon Gruden's staff in Oakland and replaced him with deposed Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Detroit's defense declined under Austin, although he will be playing with a stacked deck with quality and depth in the secondary and on the defensive line. Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson, and Geno Atkins are all strong rush threats and will keep the team in the top half of the league in sacks. They will lose Vontaze Burfict to a four-game suspension to begin the season, but added quality depth at all three levels of the defense on the second day of the draft in safety Jessie Bates (Wake Forest), linebacker Malik Jefferson (Texas), and defensive end Sam Hubbard (Ohio State). Preston Brown (Buffalo) replaced free agent loss Kevin Minter (New York Jets). This group fell to the bottom third in fantasy defense production last year, but an offense that couldn't hold the ball was more to blame than a dropoff in defensive play. With strong additions on the offensive line, the Bengals fantasy defense could be relevant again and should be on early season waiver wire watch lists.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap, DE/DT Michael Johnson, DE/SLB Carl Lawson, DT Geno Atkins, DT Chris Baker
Backups: DE Jordan Willis, DE Sam Hubbard, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT Andrew Billings

Starting DL: The defensive line has provided a solid foundation for Cincinnati over the past several years and will continue to do so in 2018. In 2017 this unit left something to be desired in terms of run defense as the 4.2 yards per carry allowed ranked in the bottom third of the league. On the other hand their 41 sacks ranked eleventh and helped the team finish sixth in yards per pass attempt. In Geno Atkins the Bengals have one of the league's elite interior linemen. He is a quick and athletic player who is stout versus the run while recording at least 8.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons. The 8.5 he recorded last season were enough to lead all interior linemen. The organization was somewhat disappointed that neither Ryan Glasgow nor Andrew Billings stepped up after Domata Peko signed with Denver before last season. Thus the addition of free agent Chris Baker. The 320 pound Baker is a proven run stuffer who brings more to the pass rush than most players his size. He recorded 11.5 sacks in three seasons as a nose tackle in Washington's 3-4 before signing a one year deal with the Buccaneers last season. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap has 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 2016 and he swatted away 7 more last season. With the ability to stand up versus the run as well, Dunlap is an outstanding three down end with game changing big play ability. His resume includes 10 takeaways, 15 forced fumbles and 3 scores over eight seasons. The Bengals have been looking for someone to push incumbent Michael Johnson for the other starting spot at end. Margus Hunt, Will Clarke, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson and now rookie Sam Hubbard have all been drafted in rounds 2-4 since 2013 but so far none have managed to displace the veteran. In 2017 Johnson did have his job description altered a little as he shifted inside on passing downs. This allowed Lawson to get on the field in nickel situations where he added 8 sacks. The strong production by Lawson could lead to an expanded role in 2018.

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. Carl Lawson has earner a substantial role while Jordan Willis has also shown promise. Rookie Sam Hubbard totaled 17 sacks in three seasons at Ohio State and has the potential to become a starter in the future. Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Billings failed to make the best of their opportunity last season but both youngsters played well enough to provide quality depth.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Vontaze Burfict (susp), SLB Nick Vigil, MLB Preston Brown, MLB/WLB Vincent Rey
Backups: SLB/DE Carl Lawson, WLB/SLB Malik Jefferson [R], MLB/WLB Jordan Evans, MLB Hardy Nickerson

Starting LBs: On paper The Bengals have a solid group at linebacker but there are some questions to be answered. The biggest one being Vontaze Burfict's ability to stay on the field. Between injuries and suspensions he has missed 30 games over six seasons as a pro, playing a full slate just once (2013). When healthy and available Burfict is among the elite linebacker talents in the game. Unfortunately he will sit out the first month of 2018 due to performance enhancing drugs. When everyone is available Cincinnati will fill out the linebacker positions with Nick Vigil on the strong side and Preston Brown in the middle. Vigil became a three down starter last year in what was his second season as a pro. He is a strong physical run defender with good enough cover skills to hold his own in coverage. While he was credited with 5 passes defended and an interception in 2017, the coaching staff would like to see more big play impact from Vigil this year. At 251 pounds Brown is a downhill thumper that should go a long way toward improving a leaky run defense. Brown was a four year starter in Buffalo where he saw regular action in both base and sub packages. He is not known as a big play linebacker but managed to contribute 7 takeaways, 2 forced fumbles, a sack and a score during his time with the Bills. Brown is a solid addition to the unit and will likely be in the mix for sub package snaps; especially early in the year while Burfict is out. Vincent Rey has been an excellent utility linebacker for Cincinnati over the past seven seasons. He can fill in at any position but is most at home in the middle. Coverage is the strength of his game though he is more than serviceable in all aspects. Rey is in line to start the first four games though it remains to be seen if the coaching staff will elect to shuffle positions or simply plug him in on the weak side.

Backup LBs: Vincent Rey has been the first linebacker off the bench for the last several years and is likely to hold that title again in 2018. The Bengals have talent behind the starters however with Carl Lawson expected to see work at strong side linebacker and rookie third round pick Malik Jefferson in the mix behind Burfict. Jordan Evans made a good impression last season as well when the then rookie sixth round pick filled in at middle backer late in the year. Lawson, Jefferson and Evans all have the potential to become starters down the road.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB William Jackson III, S Shawn Williams, S George Iloka
Backups: CB Davontae Harris [R], CB Darius Phillips [R], CB/FS Josh Shaw, S Clayton Fejedelem, S Jessie Bates [R]

Starting DBs: One constant with the Bengals over the last decade plus has been their willingness to invest heavily at the corner positions. Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III are the team's top three at the position; all are former first round selections. Dre Kirkpatrick is the prototypical lead corner. He is a fast, athletic playmaker who can run with speedy receivers. Kirkpatrick checks in at 185 pounds but at 6'3", can be physical enough to match up with big strong receivers as well. One aspect of his game the organization would like to see improve is big play production. He matched a career best of three interceptions in 2016 but is coming off a 2017 campaign that produced one. Dennard was drafted in 2014 and finally claimed a starting job last season. He is a solid press corner that has the ability to man up on many of the leagues physical receivers. Like Kirkpatrick, the organization wants to see more game changing plays from Dennard who currently has three career interceptions. The good news being two of them came last season. After missing his rookie season with a pectoral injury, Jackson returned strong in 2017. He saw significant action as a sub package corner recording 21 tackles and defending 14 passes. With the release of Adam Jones, Jackson can settle into the slot corner role without having to look over his shoulder. Free safety George Iloka is a solid if unspectacular starter who has never made much of a statistical impact. Despite having linebacker size at 6'4" 225 pounds, he is not particularly physical but is a sound tackler with good instincts. Iloka will likely be joined in the lineup by 2013 third round selection Shawn Williams who has been hampered by injuries over much of his career. Williams played sparingly in his first two seasons before seeing an increased workload late in 2015. He opened 2016 as a starter going on to lead the Bengals secondary in tackles. Williams was banged up again last year, missing four games and playing through elbow and hamstring injuries in several others. He had three interceptions in 2016 and has six total over the past three years. If he can stay healthy the organization believes Williams can be the big play threat they are so desperately in need of in the secondary.

Backup DBs: The Bengals restocked their secondary depth in this year's draft. Corners Davonate Harris and Darius Phillips were both drafted in the fifth round while safety Jesse Bates was picked in the second. Veteran Josh Shaw projects to be the fourth corner while the youngsters develop. Bates however could challenge for playing time right away. Clayton Fejedelem did an adequate job when called upon last year but is not seen as a potential/future starter.

Last modified: 2018-06-16 15:32:39