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2019 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Philosophy

For the first time in sixteen years, the Bengals will open a season with a new head coach. Zac Taylor was the quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams last season, and if he brings a similar offensive system with him to the Bengals, expect to see lots of plays run out of a single dominant personnel grouping, (the Rams ran 96% of their plays last year with three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back on the field). Using the same personnel allows the offense to line up and assess how the defense lines up in response before calling any offensive play, which unlike most versions of the no huddle results in a slower pace of play. With so little variation in personnel, the offense also relies heavily on reads like the Run-Pass Option and misdirection like play action to keep the defense off-balance.


Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): Jeff Driskel, Ryan Finley [R]

Starting QB: Dalton's career has been perplexing. He has shown the ability to produce big numbers in short bursts. But ultimately, he hasn't gotten his team over the hump. Dalton has demonstrated that without a great nucleus around him, he isn't able to carry a team to a successful season or guide himself to big numbers. Last year was another lost season for Dalton, who only played in 11 games before giving way to Jeff Driskel due to a thumb injury. Dalton's career seems to be in a place of purgatory, with offseason reports ranging from members of the organization saying they're completely comfortable with him to others saying they won't give him an extension until he re-establishes himself. Further muddying Dalton's prospects (and those of the entire offense) is a new coach. Zac Taylor comes over from the L.A. Rams after serving as Quarterbacks Coach under Sean McVay. In theory, a young, offensive-minded head coach should point the arrow up for Dalton and company. But Taylor is largely unproven, so it's worth a wait-and-see approach.

Backup QB: Driskel's journey from sixth-round pick to multi-game starter last season has been inspiring. Always a plus athlete, Driskel simply lacked the pedigree to be given much chance. He wasn't spectacular last season, but he did lead a team playing for nothing to some inspiring performances, including close losses to the L.A. Chargers, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Completing 59.7% of his passes and a 6-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, Driskel showed enough that Cincinnati did not bring in another backup to compete with him. He's not likely to become an every-week starter any time soon, but he's a serviceable backup. Just three years after being a late-round draft pick, that's a good place to be. Cincinnati will also try to develop Finley this season, a player for whom they traded up in the third round to select at 104 overall. Finley isn't known for his arm talent, but he's very accurate and a smart player who comes from a pro-style offense at NC State. Finley's limitations are likely to keep him from becoming a long-term solution as an NFL starter. He'll also turn 25 in December, which also works against him.

Running Backs

Starter: Joe Mixon
Backup(s): Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams [R], Rodney Anderson [R], Quinton Flowers

Starting RB: Mixon was able to build on a promising rookie season by improving his numbers markedly in 2018. An 1,168-yard season on the ground (and 296 more through the air) showed that Mixon can be the workhorse running back many thought he would be coming out of college. One of the bigger complaints with Mixon's rookie season was his inefficient 3.5 yards per carry. He showed that to an overblown concern, racking up 4.9 yards on his average carry last season. Many have wanted Giovani Bernard to play a larger role than the team has allowed him to, but as long as Mixon is healthy, he allows for the most versatility in the offense. If the unit can improve around him under new head coach Zac Taylor, expect Mixon's 2019 to look at least like his 2018 - if not better.

Backup RBs: In early April, the team parted ways with last year's fourth-round pick Mark Walton due to three arrests, including a felony charge. The backups are thin as a result. Bernard is the veteran of the running back group, having showcased his passing game acumen throughout his career and even displaying between-the-tackles workhorse ability in short stints when there have been injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. After Mixon's exceptional sophomore campaign, Bernard should once again have a clearly-defined backup/passing game role in 2019. Williams was drafted at 182 overall after a disappointing combine that led many to believe he lacks speed. His on-field history is more impressive than his workout measurables, having been a three-year starter at Texas A&M who was an SEC first-teamer last season. He's not a prototypical between-the-tackles player nor is he a scat-back/passing game specialist. Williams will likely find a spot on the roster as a depth player with an all-around skill set. Anderson was selected in the sixth round (211 overall) as Cincinnati looked to establish depth at running back. He played only 18 games in his college career at Oklahoma, suffering serious injuries in three of his four seasons. His only healthy season (his junior year) was highlighted by a 6.2 yards per carry mark with 1,161 yards on 188 carries. Staying on the field might be an uphill climb, but if he can, he has the raw talent to push for carries. Rounding out the group, Flowers is a former college quarterback from the University of South Florida. Despite being an accomplished collegiate player, Flowers still has plenty of work to do in order to stick in the NFL due to the position change.


Wide Receivers

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

Starting WRs: One of the NFL's most exceptional talents, the only thing that has been able to contain Green in recent years is the injury bug. His 2016 season was shortened due to a torn ACL, and his 2018 was also an incomplete year due to a foot injury. Green only played in eight full games (and part of a ninth after sitting out three games) before requiring season-ending foot surgery. The procedure seems to have gone well, as Green was out of his walking boot in February. His timetable for recovery suggests it will likely be early summer before he returns to practices, but he should be a full go for training camp and the regular season. Boyd also finished 2018 on Injured Reserve. He emerged early in the season across from Green and continued his success even after Green's season ended. Despite not playing after Week 15, Boyd ended the season with over 1,000 yards receiving, the first such campaign of his career. Reports suggest his knee should be fully healed in advance of OTAs, which should help him work into the team's new offensive scheme.

Backup WRs: Ross, the former ninth overall pick, headlines the group of backups for Cincinnati. His speed and skill are tantalizing, but his inability to stay healthy is the first bullet point on his career resume, even dating back to his college days. There were reports that the team was shopping Ross this offseason, though those have been denied by the organization. Erickson is a limited receiver who has more value on special teams as a return man. Core, Tate, and Malone are all gifted athletes with incredible size, but none have shone through, either in college or in the NFL. This team's aerial production will go mostly through its starting duo and its backs.

Tight Ends

Starters: Tyler Eifert
Backups: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample [R], Cethan Carter, Mason Schreck, Jordan Franks

Even on a team with a plethora of oft-injured players, Eifert's medical history is easily the most checkered. After only four games last season, Eifert suffered a gruesome ankle injury that ended his season. The team signed him to another one-year "prove-it" deal in the offseason, allowing him yet another chance to showcase his skills and hope to stay healthy. When he can play, Eifert's red zone skills are among the best in the NFL (especially with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski). While he's on track for OTAs, whether he can make it through the 2019 season still remains to be seen. Uzomah has seen extended time during various Eifert injuries to prove that he's a reliable, though unspectacular, player. He's the front-runner to remain the primary backup, but Cincinnati showed some hesitation to stick with Uzomah as the primary guy in the event of another Eifert injury by drafting Sample with the 52nd overall pick. Sample only had 46 catches in his entire college career, but he's a 6'5" 255-pound player who is all-around player. Sample was among the best run blockers in the nation, per ProFootballFocus. And he ran an above-average 40-yard dash for a tight end (4.71).

Place Kicker

Randy Bullock, Tristan Vizcaino: In 2018, Randy Bullock was a lackluster kicker from 50+ yards (2-for-5) and posted bottom ten scoring numbers, thanks to the fourth-lowest team field goals attempts (23). His field goal attempts were even fewer from a per game perspective in 2017, so there's not much to mine here from the journeyman kicker. The Bengals signed Tristan Vizcaino to a futures contract right after the season, but he didn't seriously threatened to win a job in Jets camp last year. Bullock is a very cheap 1.475 million this year, although the team did draft Jake Elliott in the fifth round before Bullock beat him out in 2017. Elliott was eventually poached from the practice squad and has settled in with the Eagles in a regrettable turn for Cincinnati. We can't count of the possibility of the Bengals drafting another kicker on the third day this year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Alex Erickson, Darius Phillips

The Bengals under Marvin Lewis tended to prefer continuity on special teams, with the long-time duo of Brandon Tate and Adam Jones sharing return duties for five years before Alex Erickson emerged in 2016 to take the mantle. While the new regime is not destined to share the preferences of the old, it's notable that Erickson is one of the most experienced returners in the league, having led the NFL in kickoff returns in 2018, punt returns in 2017, and kickoff return yards in 2016.

Punt Returners: Alex Erickson, Darius Phillips

The Bengals under Marvin Lewis tended to prefer continuity on special teams, with the long-time duo of Brandon Tate and Adam Jones sharing return duties for five years before Alex Erickson emerged in 2016 to take the mantle. While the new regime is not destined to share the preferences of the old, it's notable that Erickson is one of the most experienced returners in the league, having led the NFL in kickoff returns in 2018, punt returns in 2017, and kickoff return yards in 2016.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Cordy Glenn, Clint Boling, Billy Price, John Miller, Jonah Williams [R]
Key Backups: Christian Westerman, Bobby Hart, Trey Hopkins, Adam Redmond

Notes: The left side of this line is the strength, with tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Clint Boling both providing above average pass protection. The team drafted their long-term center last season in Billy Price and signed right guard John Miller in free agency from Buffalo. Right tackle Bobby Hart was brought back but he will likely be the swing tackle behind first round draft pick Jonah Williams out of Alabama. Christian Westerman is a fan favorite who looks good when given time but has not been able to convince the coaches of his worth as a starter. Overall this is a solid mid-tier line with a few changes to the lineup affecting cohesion. They have real potential to rise in the ranks if they stay healthy.

Team Defense

The Bengals fantasy defense was serviceable as a streamer last year, with a big Week 1 and 2 against the Colts and Ravens, and massive outbursts against the Dolphins and Bucs. They went quiet in the second half of the year, save for a solid Week 15 against Oakland and season finale vs. the Steelers. The new regime took a long time to hire Lou Anuramo, who has a lot of experience with new head coach Zac Taylor from their time together on the Miami staff. Anuramo will have to rehabilitate a defense that was near the bottom or at the bottom in many measures from points allowed (30th) to run defense (29th) to pass defense (32nd). Most of the key personnel is returning, outside of Vontaze Burfict, which could be a net positive. They open the season at Seattle, but streamable home matchups against the Cardinals and Jaguars are up in October.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Sam Hubbard, DT Geno Atkins, DT Andrew Billings
Backups: DE Jordan Willis, DE/DT Kerry Wynn, DE/SLB Carl Lawson, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT Renell Wren [R]

Starting DL: After a solid 2017 the Bengals defense took a step back last season. Their sack total slipped from 41 to 34 which the fifth lowest total in the league. Their six fumble recoveries ranked 25th while their 368 points allowed were middle of the pack. With a rookie head coach in Zac Taylor and a first time defensive coordinator in Lou Anarumo, it is hard to say what this defense will look like other than they will line up in a base 4-3. One thing we do know is the young coaching staff has some talent to work with. Carlos Dunlap is a quality three down defensive end who has been a mainstay since landing a starting role in 2013. He has reached double digit sacks once in his nine seasons (13.5 in 2015) but has not fallen short of seven and a half since an injury shortened 2011. Dunlap is not a threat to lead the league in sacks but at 6'6" he has and impressive 50 batted passes over his career, including 30 in the last three seasons. With long time starter Michael Johnson is gone, second year man Sam Hubbard will join Dunlap in the starting lineup. In many ways Hubbard is reminiscent of a younger Dunlap. While he is not known as a natural or particularly strong edge rusher, Hubbard sets the edge well versus the run and will make a solid contribution to the pass rush. As a rookie Hubbard played a little more than half the defensive snaps finishing with 28 tackles and half a dozen sacks. At 6'5" he too seems to have a knack for knocking down passes. On the inside Cincinnati is rock solid. Geno Atkins is one of the best in the game at the tackle position. He stands up well versus the run and has piled up 37.5 sacks over the last four seasons, including a team best of nine in 2018. In his second season, 2017 fourth round pick Andrew Billings took over as the starting nose tackle. At 6'1" and 311 pounds Billings has the size power and a low center of gravity that helps him dig in and hold ground versus the run. He is not a great pass rush threat but was able to contribute two and a half sacks last year. In summary, this is not be the flashiest group of linemen in the league, but if the Bengals do not play well defensively chances are it will not be due to their front four.

Backup DL: Cincinnati has good young players providing depth up front. End Jordan Willis was the team's third round pick in 2017. He is a better run defender than pass rusher and should see a bigger role as part of the rotation in 2019. The previous coaching staff tried to get Carl Lawson on the field more last season by having him work at strong side linebacker. The experiment backfired causing him to plummet from eight sacks in 2017 to one in the first eight games last year before landing on IR. His role in 2019 will likely be that of a nickel rush specialist where he should provide a considerable boost in the sack column. A pair of young fourth round picks will provide depth on the inside. Ryan Glasgow (2017) and rookie Renell Wren will compete for their place in the pecking order. Glasgow is coming off an ACL injury suffered early in 2018 which could give the rookie an edge. Former Giant Kerry Wynn provides a veteran presence. He is a marginal pass rusher but has starting experience at both end and tackle. That versatility makes him a valuable addition to the unit.


Starters: SLB Nick Vigil, MLB Preston Brown, WLB Jordan Evans
Backups: WLB Malik Jefferson, WLB Germaine Pratt [R], MLB Hardy Nickerson

Starting LBs: Linebacker has been a question mark for the Bengals over the last few seasons. It will remain so entering 2019. Cincinnati was widely rumored to have targeted Devin Bush with their first round pick. When the Steelers traded in front of them for Bush, the Bengals moved on to address another position of need at offensive tackle. In Nick Vigil the Bengals have a solid three down strong side linebacker. He is a stout run defender with above average cover skills but does not make many game changing plays. In 22 career starts Vigil has one sack, one forced fumble and one recovery. Preston Brown was a two year starter for Buffalo (2016-2017) before joining the Bengals in 2018. He worked as a two down middle linebacker early last season before landing on IR with a knee injury in mid-November. In many ways Brown resembles Nick Vigil; a solid run defender with decent cover skills who does not make many big plays. While Vigil and Brown are pretty well entrenched at their respective positions, there will be an open competition to replace weak side backer Vontaze Burfict. Jordan Evans will be penciled in at the spot entering training camp but he will have plenty of competition from last year's third round pick Malik Jefferson and rookie third rounder Germaine Pratt. Evans saw a lot of action in 2018 when the Bengals suffered several injuries at linebacker. He did an adequate job and showed enough flashes of potential to earn the first shot.

Backup LBs: Malik Jefferson went down with injury early in his rookie season so Cincinnati basically has a pair of rookie third round picks in their linebacker room. Either or both of these young men have the potential to emerge as a starter. Hardy Nickerson saw extensive action at middle backer after Brown was lost. He played well and will provide dependable depth, but is not the kind of difference maker the team needs to take the next step. It would not be a surprise to see Cincinnati add a veteran at some point.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB William Jackson III, SS Shawn Williams, FS Jessie Bates
Backups: CB Davontae Harris, CB Darius Phillips, CB B.W. Webb, S Clayton Fejedelem, S Brandon Wilson

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 play maker 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 has one in the last two seasons combined. After missing his rookie season with a pectoral injury, Jackson returned strong in 2017 working mostly as a nickel corner. Last year he moved into the starting lineup where he excelled on the field though his contribution was not fully expressed in the box scores. Dennard had a short stint as the starter opposite Kirkpatrick but the 2014 first round selection has settled into the nickel role. 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. Cincinnati got outstanding play from the safety positions in 2018. In his sixth season strong safety Shawn Williams exploded with career highs in virtually every category including five interceptions and a team high 78 solo tackles. Some of the tackle opportunity came from the team's struggles and injuries at linebacker but the big play production was all on Williams. The question now being was he a one year wonder? The team used a second round pick on free safety Jessie Bates last spring. It turned out to be a great investment. Bates won the starting job early in camp and made an immediate impact on the field finishing second on the team with three interceptions. His speed and excellent cover skills give the new coaching staff a cornerstone to build on.

Backup DBs: The Bengals have a good mix of youth and experience behind the starters at corner. Both Davontae Harris and Darius Phillips were third day draft picks in 2017 with free agent addition B.W. Webb providing an option with starting experience. Clayton Fejedelem provides depth at both safety positions. He is not Williams or Bates but has done a solid job in spot duty over the last two seasons.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:16:59