The future’s bright, the future’s Orange (and black). I think I’ve just created a slogan…
Every team has hope coming out of free agency and the draft, but it’s tough to deny that there’s been a change in Cincinnati and that things are looking brighter for the franchise. Did they earn the 1 spot last year? Probably. For the majority of the season the defense was terrible, the passing game wasn’t really working and they were getting out-coached week in, week out. Week 2 against the 49ers the prime example of just how badly the year would turn out; believe it or not the Bengals went into that game as 1 point favourites, as it turned out the 1 point defeat in Seattle in week 1 was the high point of optimism for the season.
It was a steep learning curve for Zac Taylor and his coaches, many of whom didn’t join the team until late in the process. Losing 1st round pick Jonah Williams and AJ Green in pre-season of course didn’t help, but experienced coaches would have figured out how to work without him. While scoring less than 18 points per game on average, and conceding The Bengals actually led at the half in 5 games last season, I believe they led at some point in 10 games (but I can’t find where I read/heard that) – 8 of their 14 losses were by 8 points of fewer. – You can blame that on luck, or on poor coaching, in reality it was probably a bit of both. It is probably worth noting that post the London trip where they were embarrassed by the Rams, they looked inward and changed things up. Leaning a lot more on Joe Mixon who was sensational in the second half of last season. The defense tightened up as well.
So on to next year.
The first pick was obviously a no-brainer. Despite all the yammerings of certain talking heads and the media in general there wasn’t any other option for a team who played a lot of last season in a half full stadium, the fanbase needed re-igniting and bringing in an Ohio native, someone who’s family are down the road, who’s girlfriend is local to the area, who just happened to have one of the best college seasons in history was something not even the Bengals could pass up on. Luckily for him, and the Bengals, he’s sneaky mobile, and had the best passer rating in college last year when under pressure. Always useful when you’re behind the Bengals offensive line.
In fairness to that unit they hopefully welcome back Jonah Williams at LT who was phenomenal for Alabama before getting drafted, they signed Trey Hopkins to an extended deal, he graded very well with PFF at center, Fred Johnson came over from the Steelers and seemed to improve the RG position. Paying Bobby Hart is a move that’s confounded a lot of people at RT, but well… he’s experienced? Personally I would have liked to see Cordy Glenn stay, but things became untenable when he felt forced back into action after a concussion and couldn’t be sorted out.
The running back position is sorted, and despite rumours from those wonderful media-types again, I don’t think that Joe Mixon will hold out if a contract isn’t sorted. They took a risk by drafting him and I from things I read and see I’m pretty sure while he wants to get paid, that he wants to stay in Cincinnati. Unfortunately for the team the Christian McCaffrey mega-deal got done which probably rose his asking price a little, but I think they’ll get a deal done. He’s still very young, just (24 when the season starts) and had an enforced year out in college so doesn’t have too much tread on the tyres and as alluded to by yourselves could well break into the upper echelon of RBs. The stat about yards after contact was ridiculous. Behind him we’ve still got Gio who can fill in, Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson as well. Anderson fell in the draft due to an ACL tear, then re-tore it for the Bengals in pre-season missing the entire year. If he’s fit then there’s a good chance he adds to the RB room.
WR is where they look very good though. Admittedly I believe a lot rests on whether AJ Green returns to anywhere near his pro-bowl brilliance. When he was healthy he was one of the best in the league and if he’s near that then he’ll still be the 1. Tyler Boyd has put together back to back 1,000 yard seasons both with and without AJ on the field. While I don’t think he can be a proper #1 he’s arguably one of the better slot guys in the league. John Ross showed what he could bring to the table in the first game of the season against Seattle, but once again struggled with injuries playing only half of the teams games. I’ve not even mentioned Auden Tate who’s highlight reel last year beats most of the league, the knock on him coming out was his speed, but he makes up for it in physicality. Then there’s the second round pickup of Tee Higgins whom the Bengals had as a first round talent. He’s basically a young AJ Green, a Bengals fan and he takes the #85 shirt which has seen some great receivers in the jungle through the years.
Not much to say at tight end really. I think Sample will be more of the blocking tight end, while Uzomah is more of a ‘tweener. He’ll likely be involved more of the two in the passing game in my eyes. They did try and sign Thaddeus Moss as a UDFA to pair him with his college QB but apparently the Redskins got there first so he went there. If for some reason he doesn’t make their roster they may well give him a call. Cethan Carter and Mason Shreck are both in the 90 as well. Shreck a late round pick from a couple of years back.
On defense the signing on DJ Reader gives them a very, very solid front with Geno, Dunlap and Reader the most notable names. Sam “Old Mother” Hubbard had a very good season and I still have hope for Carl Lawson (5 sacks in 12 games for him) – Reader should help the run defense which was obviously terrible last year. A lot of the moves they made seem to be with the intent of helping to stop opposing rushers. The Linebacker corps has been a position of weakness for a while now and needed addressing, Germaine Pratt come on through the year last year, they brought in Josh Bynes who was a solid tackler for Baltimore then picked up 3 LBs in the draft, Logan Wilson, Akiem Davis-Gaither and Marcus Bailey in the 7th. – It’s worth noting that ALL were captains of their college teams, something the team appear to want to focus on. Wilson had over 100 tackles in his final year at Wyoming, ADG is a versatile kid who can mix it up with a bit of pass rush as well, Dan liked him too of course, and was good value at the top of the 4th round and Markus Bailey was touted to go in the top 2 rounds before doing his ACL in college so picking him up with their final pick seems a sensible shot to take.
The secondary has been re-formed, just 1st round pick William Jackson III surviving from the CB group, despite a down year he has shown how good he is previously and with the group around him stronger I’d expect him to bounce back. Waynes and Alexander coming over from the Vikings replace Kirkpatrick and Dennard, while I appreciate the scepticism on Waynes in coverage, both of them are big upgrades when it comes to tackling and I think after seeing Lamar Jackson waltz through their defense on occasions last year that was an area they dearly wanted to improve on. They did pay Waynes a lot, but it’s heavily front-loaded so if he doesn’t work out this year they won’t be eating too much cap should they move on from him. Von Bell was a great signing in the middle, pairing him with Jessie Bates who was on the outskirts of the Gents top 10 safeties lists coming into the season. It also gives them the ability to move Shawn Williams between LB and Safety.
Randy Bullock managed to kick a field goal from OVER FIFTY YARDS last year!
All in all, they seem to have concentrated on two things – Character and Tackling and I think the roster is looking good for the Bengals coming into this season whenever it begins. I want to be full of hype and hope for the next season but it’s not that simple.
They start hosting the Chargers – Bosa and Ingram. TNF at the Browns – Garrett, Vernon. Then travel to Phillie – Not a bad pass rush there either. For a rookie QB coming in behind a questionable offensive line it could be a baptism of fire. I have hope, but it’s controlled. Honestly, in this AFC North where you’ve got probably the second best team in football and the other two teams improved I’d be happy with 6 wins this year with progression through the season and a top 10 or so pick in next years draft. I think it could range from 4 to 10 wins though should things go well.
Huge thanks to Adam for penning this one. Give him a follow on Twitter.