The Cincinnati Bengals have some of the biggest needs in the league heading into the upcoming off-season. While they have the assets to make major changes, the execution will be more important than ever.
Cincinnati Bengals Biggest Off-season Needs by Position
It’s another year of adding for the Cincinnati Bengals, whose biggest needs are glaring this off-season. In general, the team needs to make life better for Joe Burrow. That’s easier said than done. It will take significant roster adjustments to help this team compete for the playoffs next season. Granted, it gets a little easier to fathom when considering their assets. First of all, they own the fifth pick in the 2021 NFL draft and will have the fifth pick in each round down the board. That gives them a good chance to add two starters with their first two picks. Further, expected cap casualties will give them nearly $50 million to spend in free agency.
However, it’s important to consider the players likely headed out following this season. Certainly, the seemingly obvious departures of cornerstones AJ Green and Geno Atkins create some voids in the core of the team. Potential departures of young free agents Carl Lawson and William Jackson III could also create more dire positional circumstances. Still, it seems clear that the Bengals need to get better in the trenches. Their offensive line ranked 29th in pass block win and pass rush rate, a key stat measured by ESPN. They must get better protection for their quarterback while getting better at hitting the opposing one.
To protect Joe Burrow, investing in much better talent at offensive tackle is required. It’s something the Bengals refused to do a year ago and it cost them a torn ACL to their franchise centerpiece just ten games into his rookie year. At left tackle, there’s at least some solid answer. Jonah Williams, though limited to ten games a year ago like Burrow, seems like a fairly good answer on the blindside.
Meanwhile, their right tackle position is a massive weakness. Bobby Hart manned the position for most of the last two seasons, but he’s really sub-par and unlikely to return next season. The Bengals could look to draft Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater, or Christian Darrisaw in the first to solve that need. However, a veteran free agent option is the best way to ensure the health of Joe Burrow.
Defensive End/Edge Rusher
Too often during the 2020 season, the Cincinnati Bengals let the opposing quarterback pass without pressure. They ranked dead-last in the league with just 17 sacks as a team last season. They also ranked 29th in the league in pressure rate according to Pro Football Reference. Making matters worse? Carl Lawson, who led the team with 5.5 sacks, is an unrestricted free agent. This is a team that, in the past, has been able to find awesome pass rushers outside of the first round.
A group that includes Lawson, the team found Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and Robert Geathers in the second round or later. This team could very well make a splash with one of the tantalizing edge rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft. Some boards rank as many as 13 solid edge rush options in the top-100 prospects in the pool. It would be unsurprising to see the Bengals look at one of those options.
Since letting Kevin Zeitler walk in 2016 free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals have shown no signs of life at either guard position. The 2021 season was no different. Michael Jordan, Alex Redmond, Fred Johnson, Hakeem Adeniji, Xavier Su’a-Filo, and Billy Price all tried, but no one shined. Quinton Spain played admirable football after joining the team midseason. He could easily return for 2021 and be a strong fit as a starter on a developing line, but he only takes up one guard spot. The strongest way to improve the group? Adding Joe Thuney in free agency. However, the Bengals typically don’t spend big money on guards. Instead, it seems like drafting someone like Wyatt Davis, Trey Smith, or even Penei Sewell might give the team it’s long-term guard solution.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a huge positional need at defensive tackle this offseason. Regardless of who gets healthy and returns next season, this team is hurting for depth at defensive tackle. The four leaders in snap counts at the interior rusher position were four plug-and-play swings who joined the team in August or later; Christian Covington (557), Mike Daniels (354), Xavier Williams (309), and Margus Hunt (291).
Those guys were okay, but this team needs to build and establish their defensive line. Replacing Geno Atkins is never going to be an easy task, but the team needs to find more production from that group. Fortunately, DJ Reader returns to the group for 2021 after playing just five games, plus Josh Tupou returns after opting out. It would be unsurprising to see the Bengals take a swing on someone like Marvin Wilson or Christian Barmore in the 2021 NFL Draft to fill this gap.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals’ had mixed results from their options at the cornerback position. While William Jackson III was stellar in 2020, he’s set for unrestricted free agency and could command an undesirable price for the Bengals. If they’re unable to resign Jackson, the team’s depth at corner looks pretty bleak. They will add Trae Waynes, one of their big splash free agents from a year ago, to the mix. Waynes missed all of the 2020 season with an upper-body injury on the first day of camp. If they resign Jackson, they’ll need to add a depth piece. If they late Jackson walk, they need to find a number two option. Sure, rolling with Darius Phillips could be fine, but he’s had some rollercoaster performance that would leave the team in a compromising position.
Cincinnati Bengals Positional Needs Worth Watching: Wide Reciever/Tight End
There’s not much worry with regards to Cincinnati pass catchers for next season. The group returns rising stars Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. They’ll receive Auden Tate and CJ Uzomah back after their respective season-ending surgeries. Drew Sample proved to be a reliable second tight end. However, in a league increasingly reliant on the passing game, adding more weapons is always key.
Especially with AJ Green heading out the door, the team needs to start thinking about more ways they can spread the field. Joe Burrow proved this season that he can put a good ball on just about anyone. This team needs more talent if they envision a future that includes competing with the Kansas City Chiefs. It could come in free agency or even atop the 2021 NFL Draft with DeVonta Smith, Ja’Marr Chase, or Kyle Pitts. Regardless, adding another strong, pass-catching weapon would be of benefit to Burrow and the Bengals.
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