2021 NFL Offseason: Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals (Last Year: 4-11-1)

2021 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
OT/G Riley Reiff, DE Trey Hendrickson, DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Mike Hilton, S Ricardo Allen.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Ja’Marr Chase, OT/G Jackson Carman, DE/OLB Joseph Ossai, DE Cameron Sample, NT Tyler Shelvin, OT D’Ante Smith, K Evan McPherson. Bengals Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Ryan Finley, RB Giovani Bernard, WR A.J. Green, WR John Ross, OT Bobby Hart, DE Carl Lawson, DT Geno Atkins, DT Christian Covington, CB William Jackson, CB Mackensie Alexander, K Randy Bullock.

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
The Bengals had a tough decision when they were on the clock with the fifth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Everyone wondered if they would select Ja’Marr Chase or Penei Sewell. That was a huge dilemma for them that ultimately came down to the final days of pre-draft preparation. Cincinnati loved both prospects, but it ultimately came down to the team preferring the offensive linemen in the second round over the receivers in that area.

The logic is sound, but it could still be argued that Sewell would have been the correct choice, given Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury and the offensive line’s struggles in recent years. Burrow’s terrific rookie campaign came to an end swiftly, so drafting Sewell would ensure that the franchise quarterback would not have another injury of that sort. The Bengals had Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff as their tackles, but taking Sewell would’ve allowed Reiff to move inside, creating two upgrades for the price of one.

Chase, however, was the pick. He’s an extraordinary talent, and it’s a plus that he and Burrow shared a great connection in LSU during their magical championship run in 2019. Burrow had to endure A.J. Green’s inability to separate last year, and Chase certainly won’t have those issues. Chase will be part of a great receiving corps comprised of Tee Higgins, who was excellent as a rookie this past season, and Tyler Boyd, who posted a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns in 2018 and 2019.

As for the offensive line, the Bengals ended up using their second-round pick on Jackson Carman, a physical blocker who will be able to blast open holes for the running backs. He’ll be an upgrade over what Cincinnati had in pass protection as well, if only by default. The rest of the interior isn’t as promising, with one of Michael Jordan or Quinton Spain slated to start next to Trey Hopkins. None of these three players are very talented, so it’s a good thing Cincinnati will have better blocking on the edge, assuming Williams can remain healthy.

Joe Mixon certainly won’t complain about the superior blocking. Mixon is a very physically gifted running back, but has never had the luxury of running behind a strong offensive line. The Bengals aren’t quite there yet, but at least things are trending in the right direction.

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The plan for the Bengals in the 2021 NFL Draft was to go receiver/offensive line, then offensive line/receiver, followed by a pass rusher. The Bengals came into the offseason with the goals of improving their blocking and pass rush, as both aspects of their roster were going to be very lackluster if nothing was done about them.

Getting to the quarterback was an obvious priority because of all the high-octane offenses that reside in the AFC North. The Bengals signed Trey Hendrickson, who is coming off a monstrous 2020 campaign for the Saints. However, he was just a replacement for the departed Carlos Dunlap. With Sam Hubbard coming off a disappointing two-sack campaign – he notched 8.5 sacks the year before – the Bengals added Joseph Ossai and Cameron Sample in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. Odds are that one of them will become an effective pass rusher for the team.

The Bengals also made some adjustments to their defensive interior to compensate for bad play and a departed player. The player in question is Geno Atkins, whose amazing career in Cincinnati finally came to an end. The Bengals signed the mediocre Larry Ogunjobi and then selected nose tackle Tyler Shelvin in the fourth round to complement Mike Daniels and D.J. Reader. Both Daniels and Reader were picked up in the 2020 offseason, but they combined to miss 16 games last year. Having Reader on the field for just five games was painful because Cincinnati was counting on him to be a big difference-maker after signing him to a $53 million contract.

Another player Cincinnati gave lots of money to last offseason was cornerback Trae Waynes, who received a 3-year, $42 million contract. Like Reader, Waynes was hurt. In fact, he didn’t play a single game because of a torn pectoral. Waynes isn’t a great cornerback, but he’s a solid player who will stem the bleeding from the loss of the Washington-bound William Jackson. The Bengals also signed Chidobe Awuzie, a mediocre player, and Mike Hilton, a fine slot cornerback, this spring. It remains to be seen who will play where, but Darius Phillips seems to be the favorite to be the top cornerback. Phillips, a fifth-rund pick from 2018, thrived when given the chance last year.

The best player in the Bengals’ secondary is Jessie Bates, who has become one of the top safeties in the NFL. Bates isn’t even 25 yet, so there’s a chance he’ll keep improving in the coming seasons. Vonn Bell, who is also young (26), will start next to Bates. He’s coming off a solid season.

Cincinnati addressed its defensive line and secondary, but the linebacking corps was untouched. This was a questionable decision because of the immense struggles this unit has had over the past couple of seasons. A major reason why the Bengals have yet to defeat the Ravens is because Lamar Jackson dances around Cincinnati’s pathetic linebackers with ease. Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither could improve – they were chosen in the third and fourth rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft – but there were no signs of positive play last year. Germaine Pratt, the other starter, also struggled.

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has developed a strong home-field advantage recently, going 34-22-1 over the past seven seasons, excluding 2019, which was a lost year. This, however, hasn’t mattered in the playoffs, as the Bengals lost to both the Chargers and Steelers as hosts.

The Bengals endured kicking woes in 2020, ultimately finishing with Austin Seibert, who was 6-of-8. This is why they used a mid-round pick on Evan McPherson.

Punter Kevin Huber ranked 20th in net yardage in 2018, but improved to 10th the following season. He got better again in 2020, ranking seventh.

Cincinnati scored a touchdown on a return and didn’t give up a score to the opposition.

The Bengals have to deal with the tough teams in their division, as well as the AFC West. However, they otherwise have an easy schedule. They get to battle all of the last-place teams as well as the NFC North.

2021 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.

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals are probably a year away from competing for a playoff spot. As for this season, it’s unclear how healthy Joe Burrow will be coming off his knee injury. If he’s close to 100 percent, he’ll make great strides and lead his team to some upsets and a potential 8-9 or 9-8 record. However, the Bengals still have some serious holes they need to fill on the offensive line and in the back seven.

Projection: 7-10 (3rd in AFC North)

2020 Projection: 4-12. 2020 Actual Result: 4-11-1.
2019 Projection: 4-12. 2019 Actual Result: 2-14.
2018 Projection: 6-10. 2018 Actual Result: 6-10.
2017 Projection: 6-10. 2017 Actual Result: 7-9.
2016 Projection: 10-6. 2016 Actual Result: 6-9-1.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2021 NFL Draft: Joe Burrow is coming off a brutal knee injury, so the Bengals must make sure his protection is as good as it can be. This would entail selecting Penei Sewell at No. 5 overall if he’s available. Otherwise, Cincinnati must strengthen its defense, which couldn’t get off the field last year. Addressing the linebacking corps, in particular, seems imperative, given that the Bengals have yet to defeat Lamar Jackson.

2021 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I was in the camp that believes the Bengals should have drafted Sewell to protect Burrow. Ja’Marr Chase is almost certain to be a great receiver in the NFL, but protecting Burrow is the most important thing Cincinnati needed to do, especially given that he’s coming off a brutal knee injury.

However, the Bengals correctly identified that there would be better talent in regard to offensive linemen rather than receivers in Round 2, and that turned out to be the case because they obtained Jackson Carman after trading down in the second frame. Carman and D’Ante Smith were nice additions to the front, so Burrow’s blocking figures to be better in 2021.

Elsewhere, the Bengals spent several selections on upgrading the defensive line. They lost Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins this offseason, so replacements had to be acquired. Cincinnati did a nice job finding some talent, as all of its non-kicker picks scored at least a B-. So, despite my disagreement with the fifth-overall selection, I still say the Bengals had a very positive outcome in the 2021 NFL Draft.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

5. Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU – B Grade
The Bengals had a difficult decision between Ja’Marr Chase and Penei Sewell. They ultimately decided on the former, which I don’t agree with, but don’t hate either. Sewell would have been much better for them, especially when considering Joe Burrow’s recent knee injury. That said, Chase is going to be a superstar receiver in Cincinnati for a very long time, and it’s not like he and Burrow have to develop any sort of chemistry.

46. Jackson Carman, OT/G, Clemson – A+ Grade
I love this pick. Back in February, some league sources told us that Jackson Carman could sneak into the opening round. He obviously didn’t, so the Bengals are getting awesome value with Carman, especially when considering that they traded down eight spots. They had to improve their offensive line to protect Joe Burrow, and they did just that with Carman.

69. Joseph Ossai, DE/OLB, Texas – B Grade
It was always going to be receiver/tackle, tackle/receiver and then edge rusher for the Bengals, who needed to replace Carl Lawson. Joseph Ossai is someone I’ve consistently mocked in the third round, so this pick makes sense. Ossai is a low-upside player, but he should be a solid contributor for Cincinnati.

111. Cameron Sample, DE, Tulane – B+ Grade
It’s no surprise that the Bengals are adding another edge rusher, given the powerhouse offenses they have to battle in the AFC North. They have yet to beat Lamar Jackson, so obtaining another pass rusher was a must. Cameron Sample is someone I had in this range, so this seems like a solid pick.

122. Tyler Shelvin, NT, LSU – B+ Grade
I wonder if Joe Burrow demanded Tyler Shelvin as well. Shelvin is a monstrous nose tackle who can help stop the run. Remember, the Bengals haven’t beaten Lamar Jackson yet, so this should help them stop Baltimore’s rushing attack. This is the right range for Shelvin.

139. D’Ante Smith, OT East Carolina – A Grade
It’s no surprise that the Bengals are drafting another offensive lineman so that Joe Burrow, coming off a knee injury, is as well protected as possible. I’ve had D’Ante Smith pegged around the third frame, so the Bengals seem to be getting strong value with D’Ante Smith.

149. Evan McPherson, K, Florida – C Grade
I hate kicker picks in the first three rounds, and I’m not a fan of them in the fourth frame. The fifth round is just OK, but know that kickers grow on trees. There’s a tree outside my house, and there are four kickers growing on it right now.

190. Trey Hill, C, Georgia – A+ Grade
I thought Trey Hill put himself in first-round consideration when he handled Derrick Brown well in a 2019 matchup. I eventually moved him to the third round because of some knee injury concerns. Apparently, teams were more worried, but this was the right time to take a chance on such a high-upside player.

202. Chris Evans, RB, Michigan – B- Grade
The Bengals lost Giovani Bernard this offseason, so it makes sense that they would find a running back at some point on Day 3. Chris Evans could become a solid complement for Joe Mixon. There were better running backs available, but this isn’t a bad pick.

235. Wyatt Hubert, DE, Kansas State – B Grade
Wyatt Hubert didn’t make my final mock, but he was slotted in the seventh round in a previous update. The Bengals are trying to load up their roster with as many pass rushers as possible to stop the dynamic offenses in the AFC North, so this pick makes sense to me.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Bengals weren’t winning many games early in the year, but they showed lots of promise with Joe Burrow playing well. Burrow, however, suffered a gruesome knee injury, so it remains to be seen when he’ll be able to fully recover from it.

Offseason Moves:
  • Texans acquire QB Ryan Finley from Bengals
  • Bengals sign OT Riley Reiff
  • Bengals sign DT Larry Ogunjobi
  • Bengals sign CB Mike Hilton
  • Bengals sign CB Chidobe Awuzie
  • Bengals sign DE Trey Hendrickson

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Guards: Joe Burrow can’t be too happy that his team won themselves out of the Penei Sewell sweepstakes. However, guard is a greater need. The Bengals have nothing at the position, so multiple upgrades are needed.

    2. Two Linebackers: Cincinnati might have the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. Multiple upgrades are needed, given that the team will need to stop Lamar Jackson.

    3. Two Defensive Ends: Carl Lawson was Cincinnati’s only consistent pass rusher last year, and yet he’s an impending free agent. Signed Trey Hendrickson

    4. Two Cornerbacks: The pass defense is atrocious. With William Jackson and Mackensie Alexander entering free agency, two corners have to be acquired. Signed Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton

    5. Defensive Tackle: Help is needed on the interior of the defensive line as well. Geno Atkins looks done. Signed Larry Ogunjobi

    6. Tight End: The Bengals have had a huge hole at this position ever since seeing Tyler Eifert’s career get derailed by injuries.

    7. Offensive Tackle: As mentioned, tackle could be upgraded, but the Bengals are fine with Bobby Hart as Jonah Williams’ bookend. Signed Riley Reiff

    8. Wide Receiver: A.J. Green is done. A third receiver is needed to pair with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

    9. Running Back Depth: Giovani Bernard was released, so another running back is needed.

    10. Kicker: Randy Bullock is about to hit free agency.

    11. Punter: Kevin Huber will enter free agency as well.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2021 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Trey Hendrickson, DE, Saints. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bengals (4 years, $60 million)

      Trey Hendrickson recorded 13.5 sacks in 2020 despite not being an every-down player. The sky is the limit for Hendrickson, who is only 26 years old.

    2. Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Cowboys. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bengals (3 years)

      Chidobe Awuzie was the best cornerback on Dallas’ roster last year, though that’s not saying very much. Awuzie missed some time with an injury as well. He’s only 26, so he should continue to improve.

    3. Riley Reiff, OT, Vikings. Age: 32.
      Signed with Bengals

      The latest victim of Kirk Cousins’ terrible contract, Riley Reiff had a solid 2020 campaign, but had to be let go due to Minnesota’s cap woes. Reiff is on the decline at 32, but he can still be a solid starter for the next year or two.

    4. Mike Hilton, CB, Steelers. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bengals (4 years)

      Mike Hilton is a solid slot cornerback who is coming off a down year. He’s young enough to rebound with a better 2021.

    5. Larry Ogunjobi, DT, Browns. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bengals (1 year)

      Larry Ogunjobi had a down year in 2020, but he’s still a solid rotational defensive lineman with some upside.

    6. Ricardo Allen, S, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Signed with Bengals (1 year)

      Ricardo Allen is a capable starting safety who can play at cornerback as well. However, he’s injury-prone; he has missed 17 games in the past three years.

    Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. William Jackson, CB, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Redskins

      William Jackson has been an excellent cornerback for the Bengals over the past four years. He’s played just one full season, but that’s the only knock on him.

    2. Carl Lawson, DE, Bengals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jets (3 years, $45 million)

      Carl Lawson has notched 10.5 sacks over the past couple of seasons, and he was Cincinnati’s sole consistent pass rusher in 2020. Turning 26 this summer, Lawson has plenty of upside.

    3. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Vikings

      Mackensie Alexander did a solid job as Cincinnati’s slot receiver in his first year with the Bengals.

    4. Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals. Age: 33.
      Geno Atkins was a great defensive lineman for the Bengals during the previous decade, but he looked absolutely shot last year. I wouldn’t count him out to rebound for one or two more years, but at 33, his career could be finished.

    5. Christian Covington, DE/DT, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chargers

      Christian Covington is a quality run-stuffing defensive lineman, but his pass-rushing skills need work.

    6. Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals. Age: 29.
      Signed with Buccaneers (1 year)

      Giovani Bernard is a talented pass-catching running back, but the Bengals wanted to cut him in order to save $4.2 million. He turns 30 in November, but he can still play well for a year or two.

    7. Bobby Hart, OT, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Bobby Hart is a solid run blocker, but his pass protection wasn’t good enough to justify his salary (nearly $6 million), which was the reason why the Bengals upgraded him and then cut him.

    8. Randy Bullock, K, Bengals. Age: 31.
      Signed with Lions

      Randy Bullock has done a good job as Cincinnati’s kicker, drilling at least 80 percent of his attempts in the past four years. He’s been just 7-of-14 from 50-plus in that span, however.

    9. Kevin Huber, P, Bengals. Age: 36.
      Re-signed with Bengals (1 year)

      Kevin Huber finished seventh in net punting last year after ranking 18th the season earlier. However, he’s now 36.

    10. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals. Age: 33. — Signed with Cardinals (1 year, $8 million)
    11. Mike Daniels, DT, Bengals. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Bengals (1 year)
    12. John Ross, WR, Bengals. Age: 26. — Signed with Giants (1 year)
    13. Josh Bynes, LB, Bengals. Age: 32.
    14. Leshaun Sims, CB, Bengals. Age: 27.
    15. Margus Hunt, DE, Bengals. Age: 34.
    16. Samaje Perine, RB, Bengals. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Bengals (1 year)
    17. Alex Redmond, G, Bengals. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    18. Alex Erickson, WR, Bengals. Age: 28. — Signed with Texans (1 year)
    19. B.J. Finney, C, Bengals. Age: 29. — Signed with Steelers
    20. Brandon Allen, QB, Bengals. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Bengals (1 year)
    21. Xavier Williams, DT, Bengals. Age: 29. — Signed with Cardinals
    22. Shawn Williams, S, Bengals. Age: 30. — Signed with Cardinals (1 year)
    23. Cethan Carter, TE, Bengals. Age: 27.
    24. Mike Thomas, WR, Bengals. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Bengals
    25. Jordan Evans, LB, Bengals. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Bengals
    26. Brandon Wilson, S, Bengals. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Bengals

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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