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A Range of Expectations for Bengals Rookies: Kris Jenkins

With the 49th pick, the Cincinnati Bengals got themselves a steal for the interior defensive line in Kris Jenkins.
kris jenkins

If the Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl window is to truly remain open for the duration of Joe Burrow‘s career, the team absolutely needs to hit on as many premium picks as possible. In the first round, Cincinnati selected high-risk, high-reward offensive lineman, Amarius Mims. In the second, it continued reinforcing the trenches and added the University of Michigan’s Kris Jenkins.

Defensive tackle was a glaring need this offseason. The Bengals lost D.J. Reader to the Detroit Lions and brought in Sheldon Rankins. While the signing of Rankings was welcomed, it was certainly not enough to dissuade the Bengals from using a premium pick on defensive tackle. Now, that pick is scarfing down Skyline and making incredible dad jokes with the Bengals social media team. In no time at all, Jenkins is turning into a fan favorite.

As with any incoming rookie, there is a wide range of outcomes for Jenkins’ first year in the league.

Expectations for Bengals Rookies: Kris Jenkins

High-End: Unquestioned Starter, Compete for Pro Bowl Votes

The departure of Reader leaves a massive hole on the defensive line. Aside from Rankins, the Bengals have B.J. Hill, Zach Carter, Jay Tufele, and rookies Jenkins and McKinnley Jackson. The job is there for the taking. Plus, the top two currently on the depth chart are more pass-rush specialists. Jenkins excels in run defense.

According to our Rashad Tatum, Jenkins is, “One of the best in the Draft at stopping the run. If you need a run defender, he’s the guy.” He has incredible strength on the inside and has a refined technique that will disrupt any and all runs up the middle. In a division with Nick Chubb, Lamar Jackson, and the host of running backs from the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals absolutely had to improve upon its third-worst yards-per-attempt rush defense.

Rankins and Hill will be a sold one-two punch on the inside in passing situations. However, Jenkins is slated to take control of the snaps Reader left behind. In 14 games last year, Reader had 525 snaps. It was 397 in 10 games the year prior. Reader’s 15-game season in 2021 saw 590 snaps. Plenty of playing time is ripe for the taking.

Best case scenario has Jenkins in line for over 500 snaps. In that time, he can have a legitimate case as one of the better run defenders in the league. With his size and athleticism, there’s a timeline that sees a rookie Jenkins earn some Pro Bowl votes. It’ll be an uphill battle, of course. Run-stuffers are not as respected as pass-rushers, as evidenced by Reader never earning a Pro Bowl nod.

Low-End: Rotational Depth Piece

The elephant in the room for Jenkins — and the rest of the Michigan draftees, honestly — is the question, “How good will they be without already knowing the opponents’ plays?” While knowing whether the offense was going to run or pass is helpful, they do have to execute. Even then, there are a handful of Bengals defensive linemen worth getting on the field.

It’s much less likely than the best-case scenario but, of course, there is a timeline that sees Jenkins as just a rotational piece as a rookie. On the defensive line, the Bengals used a first-round pick on Myles Murphy and a third-round pick on Carter. Neither made any kind of impact as a rookie. Of course, that was the plan for Murphy, but the thought process remains.

Breaking through in a crowded room is always difficult, especially for a rookie.

Realistic Expectations

In all reality, Jenkins’ rookie season is going to look more like the best case rather than the worst case. 500 snaps would be generous, but it’s likely. Even with 400 snaps, Jenkins has the profile to be able to make a legitimate impact.

Jenkins’ run defense is impressive. He’s already got the size and the strength to be able to move even NFL offensive linemen. The stars certainly aligned for him to come to Cincinnati. Even if he’s a Great Value version of Reader, the Bengals will be getting a massive upgrade at the defensive tackle position.

Many Bengals fans were hoping for a first-round defensive tackle. Despite going a different route at 18, they should be more than satisfied with getting Jenkins at 49. After a solid rookie season, getting Jenkins so late will look like a steal.

Main Image:  Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


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