OT Cordy Glenn, DT Chris Baker, ILB Preston Brown.
Early Draft Picks:
C Billy Price, S Jessie Bates, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jefferson, RB Mark Walton, CB Davonte Harris, DE/DT Andrew Brown, CB Darius Phillips. Bengals Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB A.J. McCarron, RB Jeremy Hill, OT Andre Smith, C Russell Bodine, DE Chris Smith, ILB Kevin Minter, CB Pacman Jones.
2018 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
The Bengals averaged 25.6 points per game the last time they made the playoffs, which was in 2015. That figure plummeted to 18.1 this past year, so it's not a surprise that they finished 7-9 in 2017. In fact, it could be considered shocking that they managed to win as many as seven contests last season.
The primary reason for Cincinnati's regression has been the offensive line. The Bengals lost most of their talented blockers in the previous offseason, as both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler departed. This left the middling Andy Dalton with just one capable blocker in guard Clint Boling. The rest of the offensive front was anemic, prompting the front office to make multiple upgrades. They traded for the Bills' left tackle Cordy Glenn prior to the draft, moving down from No. 12 to 21. They then spent their 21st-overall selection on Ohio State center Billy Price. The two will surely help, though it's unclear how much of an impact they will make. Price tore his pectoral during the combine, and while he's expected to be ready for the season opener, it's unclear if he'll be 100 percent. Glenn, meanwhile, has a dubious injury history, missing 16 games over the past two seasons. He's very effective if healthy, but it's unlikely that he'll be able to last the entire year.
Glenn and Price, if healthy, will join Boling, right guard Trey Hopkins and right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. The latter two linemen struggled mightily last year. Still, with two upgrades on the line, Dalton should be able to perform better after completing just 59.9 percent of his passes on a poor 6.7 YPA.
It'll help Dalton if all of his primary weapons are healthy for once. That would involve tight end Tyler Eifert, but Cincinnati supporters shouldn't hold their breath, as the athletic tight end has played just 10 games in the past couple of seasons. When healthy, he and perennial All Pro A.J. Green form a terrific one-two punch. Unfortunately for the Bengals, it's unlikely that Eifert will last very long, so it would help if John Ross stepped up. The ninth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Ross has blazing speed, but caught zero passes in three games during his rookie campaign. He dealt with a shoulder injury, so he'll be better by default in 2018. However, it's unclear how impactful he'll be.
Speaking of players from the 2017 NFL Draft, Joe Mixon, the second-rounder, is expected to have a big year. Mixon is supremely talented and would've been a top-15 pick had he not been filmed punching a woman several years ago. Mixon averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, but did so behind an abysmal blocking unit. With better linemen, Mixon will be way more effective. He'll handle all of the early-down work, while effective backfield receiver Giovani Bernard will continue to handle the third-down duties.
2018 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The Bengals received some bad news this offseason when it was announced that star linebacker Vontaze Burfict would be suspended for the first four games of the season. Cincinnati has been exponentially worse without Burfict, and understandably so. Burfict is supremely talented, and he is much better than anyone else Cincinnati has at the position. It'll be difficult for the Bengals to come away with two victories in the four contests Burfict is slated to miss.
To offset the suspension, the Bengals signed Preston Brown, formerly of the Bills. Brown was solid last year, though unspectacular. A well-rounded defender, Brown is a solid second linebacker to have alongside Burfict, but the unit will struggle during Burfict's absence, as non-talents like Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil will have to play too many snaps.
Whereas the linebacking corps is the weakest part of the defense if Burfict isn't on the field, the strength of the stop unit is the defensive line. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is still one of the top players at his position. There isn't another strong defensive tackle on the roster, though Ryan Glasgow did a solid job of stuffing the run as a fourth-round rookie last year. Cincinnati also signed Chris Baker, formerly of the Redskins and Buccaneers. Baker did well with Washington in 2016, but slacked off this past season and was quickly released by the Buccaneers. Perhaps he'll be able to rebound in his new home.
The Bengals have solid edge rushers as well. Carlos Dunlap has registered at least seven sacks in each of the past six seasons. He also clamps down on the run very well. There was some question about who would start across from Dunlap last year, with the perennially disappointing Michael Johnson being the favorite. Johnson played a bit too much, as Carl Lawson should've gotten more snaps. Chosen in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft like Glasgow, Lawson logged eight sacks as a rookie. Third-round rookie Jordan Willis also showed promise, albeit in far fewer snaps. The Bengals apparently weren't content with the number of edge rushers on their roster, so they used a third-round choice this past April on Ohio State's Sam Hubbard, whom some experts believed could be selected toward the end of the opening frame.
Cincinnati's secondary will once again benefit from the sound pass rush. The team has several talented cornerbacks, including 2016 first-rounder William Jackson. The Houston product missed his entire rookie campaign because of a torn pectoral, but he was worth the wait because he was stellar this past season. Another former opening-round choice, Darqueze Dennard, had been a disappointment for his entire career, but finally stepped up last year. In a contract season, Dennard should perform well again. Meanwhile, the Bengals will need Dre Kirkpatrick to rebound, as the 28-year-old cornerback was hindered by a shoulder problem.
While the Bengals' cornerbacks are stellar, the same can't be said of the safeties. Returning starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams are very mediocre, so it's understandable why Cincinnati spent a second-round choice on Wake Forest's Jessie Bates, who should be able to challenge for a starting job early in his career.
2018 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has developed a strong home-field advantage recently, going 27-13-1 over the past five seasons. This, however, hasn't mattered in the playoffs, as the Bengals lost to both the Chargers and Steelers as hosts.
The Bengals spent a fifth-round pick on Jake Elliott last year, but didn't keep him. They opted for Randy Bullock, who went 18-of-20, hitting his only try from beyond 50.
Punter Kevin Huber ranked 13th last season. He's hovered around the middle of the pack the past several years.
Cincinnati's special teams weren't very good, as the team was outgained on both punts and kickoff returns.
The Bengals have a third-place schedule, but they still have to battle some tough foes, given that the entire AFC North has to take on both the NFC South and AFC West, the two best divisions in the NFL.
2018 Cincinnati Bengals Rookies:
Go here for the Bengals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2018 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals are not very good. Andy Dalton was able to quarterback the team to the playoffs years ago, but that was when Cincinnati had a stacked roster. That's not the case anymore. The offensive line will be better, but it's still a big question mark; there's no reason to expect Tyler Eifert to remain healthy; and Vontaze Burfict will miss a quarter of the season, which is a big deal. Still, given how bad the AFC North is, Cincinnati could be in the mix to win the division, despite the tough schedule.
Projection: 6-10 (Tied 2nd in AFC North)
2017 Projection: 6-10. 2017 Actual Result: 7-9. 2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 6-9-1.
Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Bengals traded for Cordy Glenn, but they need to continue to repair their atrocious offensive line. The decline in blocking ability is the primary reason why Cincinnati struggled so much in 2017, so that needs to be addressed. The Bengals should also consider drafting a quarterback to potentially replace the disappointing Andy Dalton.
2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Cincinnati wanted Frank Ragnow, but the Lions selected him one pick earlier. Luckily for the Bengals, they also loved Billy Price as a prospect, so they were able to select him 21st overall. Price tore his pectoral at the combine, but recent medical reports suggested that he would be ready by August, if not earlier. Price, as a result, should be Cincinnati's day-one starter at center.
I thought the Bengals would make more upgrades to the offensive line, but they didn't draft another blocker until the seventh round. This was a mistake, but Cincinnati at least obtained some other talented players. Defensive end Sam Hubbard, chosen 77th overall, was expected by some to be a first-round pick. Hubbard has great potential, but was very inconsistent at Ohio State. He presented great value in the third round. Jessie Bates, chosen a bit earlier, should provide a much-needed upgrade at safety.
Cincinnati found some nice bargains on Day 3 as well. Running back Mark Walton and defensive tackle Andrew Brown were both solid choices. I wasn't as crazy about third-rounder Malik Jefferson, whose passion for football has been questioned. However, Jefferson earned the only grade worse than a "B" outside of Round 7.
It seems like the Bengals came away with a decent haul this year, as several players from this class figure to make impactful contributions in 2018. I just wish more energy was spent on the offensive line.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
21. Billy Price, C, Ohio State B+ Grade
And the run on centers begins! Actually, not really, as the Bengals were going to select a center the entire time. They wanted Frank Ragnow, but Billy Price is a nice consolation prize. In fact, I thought they'd take Price when his medical concerns were still apparent.
Fortunately for Price, he's been medically cleared. He's the top blocker on the board, and Cincinnati absolutely had to upgrade the line. The only concern is that Price may not be ready to play until August, but he could return before then. It's just a minor worry, so this is a good pick.
54. Jessie Bates, S, Wake Forest B+ Grade
The Bengals could've taken any of the top three second-day safeties - Bates, Ronnie Harrison, Justin Reid - and they would've made sense. Cincinnati had a huge need at safety entering the draft, and it's nice that they've filled it with a quality player like Bates.
77. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State A+ Grade
We had Sam Hubbard in the opening round! I suppose he fell because he never lived up to his ability for most of his collegiate career, but he ended it with a bang. I thought this might convince teams to select him early, but apparently not. Still, it's a high-upside selection, as Hubbard should help the edge rush.
78. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas C Grade
Once upon a time, I had Malik Jefferson in the first round of my 2018 NFL Mock Draft. He fell to the third or fourth round because of a down 2017 campaign, as well as rumblings that he had a lack of passion for football. That's not someone I'd want to draft in the third round, but the upside is certainly there.
112. Mark Walton, RB, Miami B+ Grade
If Mark Walton didn't have durability issues, he may have gone a round earlier. He's a nice third-down option for the Bengals, as they may eventually want to pair him with Joe Mixon, depending on what's happening Giovani Bernard, whose contract will expire in 2020.
151. Davontae Harris, CB, Illinois State B Grade
Davontae Harris struggles with deep speed, but he's a solid zone cornerback, and he definitely fits the range as a fifth-round prospect. He'll provide some much-needed depth at cornerback.
158. Andrew Brown, DE/DT, Virginia A- Grade
Andrew Brown was very inconsistent at Virginia, but showed his great potential at the Senior Bowl and combine. Brown could've been chosen a round or maybe even two earlier than this, so I like this pick for the Bengals, who are bolstering defensive line depth well.
170. Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan B Grade
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Bengals have doubled up on cornerbacks, given their dire need at the position. Darius Phillips makes sense as a fifth-round prospect, and he should be able to play in the slot and double up as a solid special-teamer.
249. Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo B Grade
Marvin Lewis said the Bengals would have to "start from scratch" this offseason. Is this what he meant? Logan Woodside makes sense this late in the draft - I had him going 198th overall - and the Bengals might be able to develop him into a solid No. 2 quarterback, which they need in the wake of the A.J. McCarron departure.
252. Rod Taylor, G/OT, Ole Miss A- Grade
It's not a surprise that the Bengals added another offensive lineman. Rod Taylor should be able to make the 53-man roster as a backup, thanks to his versatility. He played four positions (everything except center) at Ole Miss, and he has nice length and strength to stick in the pros. It wouldn't surprise me if Taylor emerged as a starter one day, but he'll likely be a reserve.
253. Auden Tate, WR, Florida State C+ Grade
Auden Tate made a huge mistake by declaring early. There were concerns leading up to the draft that he wouldn't be able to get any sort of separation in the pros, and that's exactly why he fell to the seventh round. I'd be pretty surprised if he remained in the NFL for more than a year or two.
The Bengals got off to a poor start this past season, getting shut out against the Ravens and then losing to the Texans in a rookie quarterback's first start. Marvin Lewis, who is returning despite previous rumors that said otherwise, said that the team has to start from scratch.
Bengals sign QB Matt Barkley
Bengals sign ILB Preston Brown
Bengals acquire OT Cordy Glenn from Bills
Bengals sign DT Chris Baker
Two Offensive Tackles: Andy Dalton's early-career success can be attributed to the offensive line. He had great blockers to begin his tenure in Cincinnati. However, the Bengals lost all of their linemen this past season, including Andrew Whitworth. They need two new tackles. Traded for Cordy Glenn
Center: Center is another big problem area up front. Russell Bodine has played pedestrian football for years, and his contract is expiring anyway. The Bengals should finally obtain an upgrade at center.
Guards: Here's another hole on the offensive line. Left guard Clint Boling is solid, but right guard was yet another huge weakness.
Safety: This is the primary area the Bengals must upgrade on defense. Their defense hasn't really been the same since losing Reggie Nelson, as their safety play has been considerably weaker after he departed for Oakland.
Tight End: Andy Dalton needs more weapons. He had a great tight end in Tyler Eifert, but Eifert hasn't been able to stay healthy. He's an impending free agent anyway. Re-signed Tyler Eifert
Linebacker: Vontaze Burfict's absence was felt when he was out of the lineup. The Bengals didn't have much else at linebacker, so this is an area they'll have to upgrade. Signed Preston Brown
Wide Receiver: The Bengals don't have a viable downfield weapon aside from A.J. Green. John Ross, chosen ninth overall in 2017, failed to do anything as a rookie. He'll be a bigger factor next year, but an upgrade is needed over Brandon LaFell.
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins is one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, but the Bengals don't have anything next to him. Ryan Glasgow showed a bit of potential as a fourth-round rookie, but even if he's the starter going forward, depth will be needed. Signed Chris Baker
Cornerback: Darqueze Dennard finally lived up to expectations, but he happens to be an impending free agent. He'll need to be replaced if he leaves.
Backup Quarterback: This assumes A.J. McCarron is traded. If he is, the Bengals will need to bring in someone new to play behind Andy Dalton. Signed Matt Barkley
Punter: Kevin Huber is set to be a free agent in March. Re-signed Kevin Huber
Chris Baker, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 30. Signed with Bengals
Chris Baker had a terrific season in 2016, and he signed a 3-year, $15.75 million contract last spring. He seemed like a great addition, but he slacked off in his new home and was ineffective. Baker is very talented, however, and he could bounce back if motivated.
Preston Brown, ILB, Bills. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bengals
Tyler Eifert is an extremely talented tight end, and he would be rated as a four-star player if there weren't major health concerns. Unfortunately, Eifert has played in just 10 games the past two seasons, and he's been very limited in many of those. With back issues, it's fair to wonder if Eifert will ever be fully healthy again.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Bengals. Age: 27. Signed with Bills (2 years)
A.J. McCarron was nearly traded to the Browns before the front office screwed up the paperwork. Perhaps Cleveland will make another attempt to acquire him this offseason. If so, the Browns are getting a quarterback who can probably be an average starter in the NFL. In extensive action in 2015, McCarron threw six touchdowns to two interceptions, with a 66.4 completion percentage and a 7.2 YPA.
Kevin Huber, P, Bengals. Age: 33. Re-signed with Bengals (3 years)
Kevin Huber has been in the top 15 of net punting in two of the past three years.
Kevin Minter, ILB, Bengals. Age: 27. Signed with Jets
Kevin Minter had been a disappointment as a former second-round pick, until 2016 when he played well. Minter signed with the Bengals, but struggled mightily. Perhaps he can rebound, but his outlook is dubious.
Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals. Age: 25. Signed with Patriots
Jeremy Hill had an outstanding rookie campaign in 2014, gaining 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. However, Hill has yet to average more than 3.8 yards per carry in a season since. He's been a big disappointment, but he has the talent to turn his career around.
Pacman Jones, CB, Bengals. Age: 34.
Pacman Jones had some great moments in his career as both a cornerback and a return specialist, but he's definitely on the decline as someone who is turning 35 in September.
Chris Smith, DE, Bengals. Age: 26. -- Signed with Browns (3 years)
Andre Smith, OT, Bengals. Age: 31. -- Signed with Cardinals (2 years)
Russell Bodine, C, Bengals. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bills