Cincinnati Bengals (Last Year: 10-5-1)
2015 NFL Season Preview:
QB Josh Johnson, WR Denarius Moore, DE Michael Johnson, LB A.J. Hawk.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, OT Jake Fisher, TE Tyler Kroft, LB Paul Dawson, CB/S Josh Shaw, DE/DT Marcus Hardison, TE C.J. Uzomah. Bengals Rookie Forecast
QB Jason Campbell, WR Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, TE Jermaine Gresham, OT Marshall Newhouse, C Mike Pollak, DE Robert Geathers, CB Terence Newman, S Taylor Mays.
2015 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
Bengal fans must feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Much like Murray waking up and reliving the same day over and over again, the Cincinnati faithful begins every single season knowing that it’s going to be the same. The Bengals will look great at times during the year, earn a playoff spot, and ultimately lose right away in the playoffs, as a helpless Andy Dalton fails to complete routine passes.
Dalton is the catalyst for this pseudo time loop. He’s good enough to quarterback a strong team to the playoffs, but he has proven that he just doesn’t have the physical talent to carry a franchise deep into the postseason. In four playoff contests, Dalton has gone a combined 88-of-158, 873 yards, one score and six picks. The ugly touchdown-to-interception ratio should be telling enough, but Dalton’s completion percentage (55.7%) and YPA (5.53) are equally as horrid. Cincinnati consequently has scored 10, 13, 10 and 10 points in its quartet of postseason defeats.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, they’re locked into Dalton for now. They had no choice but to surround him with better players this offseason, but they didn’t exactly accomplish that goal. In fact, the front office did nothing but acquire current depth, so if everyone stays healthy, Dalton’s supporting cast won’t be any better than it was in 2014.
Then again, that would mean that A.J. Green would be on the field. Dalton had Green in his other playoff embarrassments, but not the most recent one at Indianapolis because of a concussion. That, of course, was a huge deal, given that Green is one of the top receivers in the NFL. He just had his worst season, statistically, and he still managed to accumulate 1,041 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 13 games.
Green wasn’t the only Bengal missing in that playoff loss. Dalton also didn’t have the services of Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert or Jermaine Gresham, leaving him with the likes of Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate, who predictably struggled. However, there’s no guarantee that Dalton’s arsenal will be at full strength this season, either. As of this writing, Jones still hasn’t been cleared for OTAs, so it remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to contribute this season. Gresham currently isn’t on the team, as he’s floating around as a free agent. Eifert, meanwhile, doesn’t have much NFL experience, so he’s an unknown. A third-round choice was used on tight end Tyler Kroft, but he probably won’t contribute much in 2015.
With a questionable receiving corps, save for Green, Dalton will once again have to lean on the ground attack. That’s not a bad thing, given how potent Jeremy Hill was at the end of the season. Hill took over as the primary back in Week 15 and rushed for 100-plus yards in three consecutive contests, averaging a highly impressive 5.6 yards per carry in the process. Hill looked unstoppable at times, while Giovani Bernard continued to serve as a major pass-catching threat; he snagged 15 receptions in those three contests in which Hill ran wild. The two complement each other extremely well.
The Bengals spent their resources in the draft making sure they’d have a strong offensive line to block for Hill, Bernard and Dalton for years to come. They used their initial two draft choices on tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Neither will do much in 2015, barring injury, so the same five offensive linemen from last season will be back.
The front is anchored by Andrew Whitworth, who is still getting the job done at 33. Whitworth is still one of the top blind-side protectors in the league, but he was informed by owner Mike Brown that he would not be re-signed after the 2015 campaign, which will allow Ogbuehi to step into his spot. Right tackle Andre Smith probably won’t be back either. Smith is a decent right tackle, but is coming off a injury-plagued, mediocre season. Smith missed the second half of the year with torn triceps.
The interior of the offensive line is also strong, though the one liability in the unit is at center. Russell Bodine struggled at the position, but he was a fourth-round rookie who might be able to improve. He’ll once again be sandwiched in between guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler, who combined to surrender just four sacks in 2014.
2015 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
Rather than draft offensive linemen for the future, it was predicted that the Bengals would use some of their top draft picks to improve their declining defense. Cincinnati’s stop unit has been strong for years under Marvin Lewis, but that wasn’t the case in 2014. The team defended the pass well, but it struggled immensely when trying to both stop the run and put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
One of the greatest reasons for this was because of Geno Atkins’ status. Atkins was considered one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL, but tore his ACL in the middle of the 2013 campaign. Atkins made it back this past season, but definitely did not look like himself. He should be a lot better in 2015, given that he’ll be two years removed from his nasty knee injury. He’ll once again start next to Domata Peko, whose play has fallen off a cliff. Peko was one of the worst defensive starters in the NFL this past season, and it’s quite puzzling that the front office didn’t find a way to upgrade him.
The Bengals at least did something about the defensive end spot, which was a major position of weakness for them last season. They brought back Michael Johnson, who was quickly jettisoned from the Buccaneers after signing a big contract with them a year ago. Johnson played well for Cincinnati before moving on to Tampa, but he may not be the same player in his return; he signed a big contract and became fat and happy, so the motivation may not be there anymore. If that’s the case, Carlos Dunlap will be the only capable starter at defensive end. Dunlap logged eight sacks and played the run well in 2014.
The linebacking corps is also a major question mark. The unit would be in much better shape if all the players in it were healthy, but that’s not the case. Vontaze Burfict, the best of the bunch, had microfracture knee surgery this offseason. Many NFL players never recover from such a procedure; let alone play well the upcoming year. Burfict’s 2015 status is in jeopardy, and it would take a miracle for him to take the field right away. If he can’t make it back, the capable, but unspectacular Vincent Rey will start in his place.
The other two starting linebackers are Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur. Maualuga is an inconsistent player, but he’s a passable starting defender. Lamur, however, struggled immensely this past season. The Bengals signed A.J. Hawk for depth, but the former Packer doesn’t have much left in the tank. Third-round rookie Paul Dawson would be a better bet, but he’s obviously an unknown.
Cincinnati’s secondary is at least in decent shape. Three of the four starters are returning, with the lone exception being Terence Newman, who had to be replaced because of age issues. Dre Kirkpatrick, who saw some action this past season, will start in his place across from Leon Hall, who had a solid 2014 campaign. Pacman Jones and fourth-round rookie Josh Shaw will provide depth.
The safeties, meanwhile, will remain the same. The duo of Reggie Nelson and George Iloka isn’t discussed much by the talking heads on TV, but they are a strong tandem and get the job done. Nelson is better in coverage, and Iloka thrives in run support, but neither is a liability in any regard.
2015 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has developed a strong homefield advantage recently, going 13-3-1 over the past couple of seasons. The team most recently upset the Broncos on Monday Night Football.
Mike Nugent was re-signed this offseason, but the move was a confusing one. He was just 26-of-33 in 2014, including 0-of-3 from 50-plus.
Punter Kevin Huber ranked fifth in net punting and was in the middle of the pack when it came to placing attempts inside the 20.
Thanks to Pacman Jones, the Bengals were strong on special teams. They surrendered the only touchdown, but they managed to outgain their opponents on punt and kickoff returns.
Cincinnati has a mixed schedule. Tough opponents include the Ravens (twice), Steelers (twice), Seahawks, Cardinals, Broncos and Chargers. Easier foes are on the slate as well, like the Raiders, Rams, Texans, 49ers and Browns (twice).
2015 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.
2015 Cincinnati Bengals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2015 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: Should Bengal fans expect anything else? There’s a good chance the team wins about 9-10 games, qualifies for the playoffs, and then loses in the postseason right away. Cincinnati is stuck in a real-life, NFL version of Groundhog Day.
Projection: 9-7 (3rd in AFC North)
NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade
Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: A weapon for Andy Dalton is needed, but the Bengals’ biggest concern is the defensive line. Both the end and tackle positions must be addressed. The linebacking corps should be looked into as well.
2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Bengals addressed the trenches – but they took players on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage. They apparently don’t believe that Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith will be on the roster in 2016 and beyond, as they selected a pair of offensive tackles with their first two picks. The Jake Fisher choice made sense, given how much of a value he was in the middle of the second round. However, Cedric Ogbuehi was a major reach. Some teams we spoke to had a third-round grade on him.
Cincinnati made a few quality picks after that, including Paul Dawson, who wouldn’t have been a reach had he snuck into the second round. I also like Josh Shaw, a talented defensive back who dropped because of character issues that don’t sound too terrible.
Marcus Hardison was also a good option at the end of Round 4, but he was the first defensive lineman Cincinnati selected. This was a big problem area last year, and it appears as though the Bengals will once again struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2015. Cincinnati also failed to acquire a weapon for Dalton, so the offense will continue to sputter against playoff-caliber defenses.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
21. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: C+ Grade
This is a bit of a reach. Cedric Ogbuehi is coming off a torn ACL and wasn’t very highly regarded; at least that’s what teams we’ve spoken to told us. In fact, one franchise had him slotted in the third round, partly because of the injury. The good news is that Ogbuehi won’t have to play this year; he’ll take over at left tackle once Andrew Whitworth moves on. The bad news is that Ogbuehi won’t be able to contribute this year, and Cincinnati needs talented players to help Andy Dalton take the next step.
Follow @walterfootball for updates.
53. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon: B+ Grade
Uhh… another tackle!? I guess the good news is that the Bengals know that they have a blind-side protector if Cedric Ogbuehi busts, and they’re selecting the best player available, as Jake Fisher was receiving first-round buzz. The bad news is that Cincinnati apparently won’t have Andre Smith or Andrew Whitworth next year, meaning they’ll have to count on both second-year tackles to protect Andy Dalton.
85. Tyler Kroft, TE, Rutgers: B- Grade
Somewhere, Bill Belichick locked himself in a closet and began weeping uncontrollably, as a Rutgers player was chosen before he got to snatch him off the board. The Bengals were looking for a tight end to replace Jermaine Gresham, and Tyler Kroft figures to play well for them. I had Kroft as a fourth-rounder, but taking him in the middle of the third isn’t too much of a reach.
99. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU: A- Grade
The Bengals were aiming to upgrade the linebacker spot; Vontaze Burfict has injury issues, while other players at the position have expiring contracts soon. Paul Dawson could have gone a bit earlier than this without being called a reach, so I like this selection for the Bengals. Dawson will begin as a backup, but he figures to be very effective on special teams before he emerges as a starter down the road.
120. Josh Shaw, CB/S, USC: A- Grade
The Bengals have stayed away from troubled players for the most part in recent years, but they’ve proven that they can handle dealing with such individuals. Josh Shaw has his documented problems, but there’s no denying he has the talent. In fact, if he were clean, the athletic Shaw would’ve been a second-round pick. Cincinnati had to find some corner help with Terence Newman gone, and Shaw could start sooner rather than later.
135. Marcus Hardison, DE/DT, Arizona State: B Grade
I thought Marcus Hardison’s best spot was going to be in a 3-4 as a five-technique, but he makes sense for the Bengals, who had to find upgrades for the defensive tackle position. Hardison is a solid choice who fits this range.
157. C.J. Uzomah, TE, Auburn: C Grade
Only 100 picks remaining in the 2015 NFL Draft! The Bengals made their second tight end selection by picking C.J. Uzomah, who is more of a blocker. I’m not crazy about adding blocking tight ends until the end of the draft, but the middle of the fifth is not a terrible spot. I’m not crazy about this pick, though.
197. Derron Smith, S, Fresno State: B+ Grade
Derron Smith probably would have gone earlier than this had he not undergone sports hernia surgery earlier this offseason. With that in mind, this is a solid choice in the middle of the sixth round.
238. Mario Alford, WR/KR, West Virginia: B Grade
Mario Alford just missed the final cut of my mock draft, but he’s definitely worth a spot in the middle of the seventh round. He may not see the field on offense, but he should be able to contribute as a kick-returner with his blazing-fast 4.25 40.
Different season, same story. The Bengals keep getting to the playoffs, yet they lose in their first game every single time. As long as Andy Dalton is the quarterback, that probably will not change.
- Defensive End: Cincinnati’s defense took a major decline this season because it couldn’t generate a pass rush; it had the fewest sacks in the NFL. Michael Johnson was missed, so a replacement defensive end will have to be acquired, perhaps via free agency, where there are tons of quality pass-rushers available. Signed Michael Johnson
- Defensive Tackle: Elsewhere on the defensive line, Cincinnati has to find an upgrade over the anemic Domata Peko, who was a major liability in 2014. An early-round selection could be used on a defensive tackle.
- Quarterback: Andy Dalton is too limited to lead the Bengals deep into the playoffs. This has been evident for quite some time, but the Bengals don’t have the resources to find an upgrade. What they can do is spend a third- or fourth-round pick on a developmental signal-caller.
- Strongside Linebacker: With Rey Maualuga heading into free agency, Cincinnati will need a third linebacker to go along with Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey. Emmanuel Lamur shouldn’t start again. Re-signed Rey Maualuga; signed A.J. Hawk
- Center: Russell Bodine did not play well as the team’s starting center last year, but he was a fourth-round rookie, so I’m sure he’ll get another chance. Some competition wouldn’t hurt though.
- Left Tackle: The Bengals may consider using an early selection on a left tackle so that they can move Andrew Whitworth inside. Whitworth performed extremely well in 2014, but he’s a 33-year-old who will be entering his contract season.
- Wide Receiver: Marvin Jones will be back next year, but it wouldn’t hurt the Bengals if they added a speed option that they’ve missed with Andrew Hawkins leaving. Signed Denarius Moore
- Cornerback Depth: Some depth could be added at this position with Terence Newman likely gone.
- Kicker: Mike Nugent happens to be a free agent. Re-signed Mike Nugent
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Michael Johnson, DE, Buccaneers. Age: 28.
Signed with Bengals (4 years, $24 million)
Michael Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012. He saw a dip in that number the following season, but still played well. He ended up signing a 5-year, $45 million deal on the first day of free agency last March, but was absolutely dreadful, much like most free agents who take the money and run to inferior situations. Johnson, who just turned 28, might be able to rebound.
A.J. Hawk, ILB, Packers. Age: 31.
Signed with Bengals (2 years)
A.J. Hawk has regressed over the past couple of years, so his release was not surprising, especially considering that it saved $3.5 million in cap space. Hawk didn’t play much down the stretch and could be completely done. He’ll most likely get a second chance on a 1-year deal.
- Denarius Moore, WR, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Bengals (1 year)
- Josh Johnson, QB, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Clint Boling, G, Bengals. Age: 26.
Re-signed with Bengals (5 years, $26 million)
Clint Boling showed no signs of the torn ACL he sustained last year. He had a strong 2014 campaign, especially as a run-blocker, blasting open huge holes for Jeremy Hill.
Rey Maualuga, ILB, Bengals. Age: 28.
Re-signed with Bengals (3 years)
An inconsistent player, Rey Maualuga was on the field about two-thirds of the snaps this season. Maualuga was having a mediocre campaign until the end of the season, which is when he caught fire and started playing some of the best football of his career.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Bengals. Age: 27.
Jermaine Gresham hasn’t had a poor tenure in Cincinnati or anything, but he hasn’t come close to meeting expectations as a former first-round pick.
- Terence Newman, CB, Bengals. Age: 36. — Signed with Vikings (1 year)
- Eric Winston, OT, Bengals. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Bengals
- Mike Nugent, K, Bengals. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Bengals
- Marshall Newhouse, OT, Bengals. Age: 26. — Signed with Giants (2 years, $3.25 million)
- Mike Pollak, C, Bengals. Age: 30.
- Greg “Mr. Reliable” Little, WR, Bengals. Age: 26.
- Brandon Tate, WR/KR, Bengals. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Bengals
- Robert Geathers, DE, Bengals. Age: 32.
- Jason Campbell, QB, Bengals. Age: 33.
- Taylor Mays, S, Bengals. Age: 27. — Signed with Vikings
- Cedric Peerman, RB, Bengals. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Bengals
- Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, Bengals. Age: 26.
- Chris Carter, OLB, Bengals. Age: 26.
- Alex Smith, TE, Bengals. Age: 33.
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