There is little doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals need some big contributions from lesser-known players this season. Certainly, they’ll need major contributions from their young stars and big investments. Regardless, they need some hidden gems to emerge down the roster. In recent seasons, they’ve lacked that extra punch down the roster. Make no mistake, the 2021 season is pivotal for this organization. Perhaps, the emergence of a young star or two could change the ceiling on their upcoming campaign.
Bengals Players Who Could Emerge as Impact Players in 2021
Finding talent on the fringes is an important part of roster building in professional sports. In recent years, it’s been a weak suit for the Cincinnati Bengals organization. Ironically, that’d been a strong suit for the same front office personnel for the majority of the past two decades. The same regime that found Geno Atkins in the fourth round and T. J. Houshmandzadeh in the seventh is struggling to find those same fringe names. Now, after back-to-back seasons drafting near the top of every round, it’s time to see some return on investment.
There are little-to-no guaranteed immediate breakout players in any draft, but development can make young talent sore. Now, the Cincinnati Bengals need to hope their refurbished coaching staff can tap some of the potential seemingly waiting for a nudge down their roster. Certainly, it could come from a name fans least expect. Regardless, there are some interesting young players on this roster.
Auden Tate, Wide Reciever
With the top-end receiver talent on the Bengals roster, it seems like Auden Tate is being a little overlooked. Granted, he played in just nine games last season, compiling only 14 catches for 150 yards. However, coaches rave about his connection with Joe Burrow and his catch radius is off the charts. Tate isn’t a perfect player and frankly doesn’t have a ton of speed in his toolbox. However, if the Bengals end up in more red-zone situations this season, he could become Burrow’s short-range weapon of choice. Tate is also something of a fan favorite, given his ability to make something out of nothing on sideline catches and high-sailing passes. It would be no surprise to see Tate have a career year in Cincinnati.
Germaine Pratt, Linebacker
There’s no mistake about it; this is a go big or go home year for Germaine Pratt. Frankly, this team’s linebacking group is counting on a big third year from the former third-round pick. Playing alongside Logan Wilson, the duo makes up one of the most inexperienced groups in football. However, when things have gone well for Pratt, he’s looked like a long-term solution at linebacker. Last season, Pratt ranked as the second-worst run defending linebacker in the NFL, earning a meager 29.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Granted, his overall grade improved from 41.5 as a rookie to 51.0 in his second season. While the improvement is appreciated, he needs to be closer to average (or better) in 2021.
Darius Phillips, Cornerback
This isn’t to say that Darius Phillips hasn’t made some great plays in Cincinnati. Now, entering a contract year, Phillips has the chance to break out on this Bengals roster. The team has two starting corners in Trae Waynes and Chidobe Awuzie, but neither has great ball skills. In Phillips, the team has a rotation corner with five interceptions in his last 20 games. This team could certainly use the turnovers, especially if it’s pass rush stalls again this season. Plus, he has the potential to become quite the exciting punt returner. If one of the team’s starting players needs time off, Phillips, in a contract year, could truly shine.
Renell Wren, Defensive Tackle
After missing all of 2020 with a quad injury early in training camp, Renell Wren is working his way back. He’ll need to compete for a spot on the back end of the 53-man roster, but his talent is incredibly interesting. Coming out of Arizona State, Wren posted a 9.74 relative athletic score, the third-highest in his defensive tackle class. Seemingly, that gives the Bengals another option behind Larry Ogunjobi at the three-technique, a clear area of need. If Wren can help this team disrupt the middle of interior offensive lines in 2021, it would be a major development.
Drew Sample, Tight End
One of the most criticized Bengals picks of the last decade is Drew Sample. Many believe his second-round selection was a big reach and in two years, he has yet to live up to that billing. Conversely, he’s developed into an outstanding blocker and has a lot of value in that role. However, this team needs him to take a step forward as a pass-catcher. His 2020 season is probably a tad underrated, as he compiled 349 yards and a touchdown on 40 catches. Further, he caught 75.5% of the passes thrown in his direction, the best of any non-running back on the Cincinnati Bengals last season. The talent is there, Sample just needs to show what he can do next season.
My Drew Sample hype train continues with something I can't believe I'd never checked. Big for the #Bengals.
-As a pass blocker, Sample ranked 14th among TEs in 2021 (72.6 grade per @PFF) with the 5th most opportunities (94).
-As a run blocker, Sample ranked 6th among TEs (72.1)
— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) June 10, 2021
Joseph Ossai, EDGE
Realistically, the Bengals need one of their three rookie defensive ends to make a splash. The earliest pick of the trio, Joseph Ossai, seems like the most likely to become a year-one impact player. While he’s the only rookie on this list, he probably has the highest ceiling in this group. Further, he proved the most of any young Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher during his last college season. During the truncated 2020 campaign, Ossai racked up 5.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in nine games. Further, that came against quality Big 12 competition. The Bengals need to find a way to get more from their pass rushers this year. Seemingly, Ossai looks like the right man for the job.
The Potential is There with These Bengals Players
To say the Cincinnati Bengals roster is devoid of talent is inaccurate. In reality, they might have some of the most talent in the league, it’s just converting that talent into performance. In some ways, it seems like the current core of players are meshing and building under the leadership of Joe Burrow. Regardless, Zac Taylor and his coaching staff need to get more out of their current roster. If not, it’s hard to imagine Taylor coming back to Cincinnati in 2022. However, if some of the fringe talent pops in 2021, it could be a huge season for the Cincinnati Bengals.
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