(Editor's Note: Earlier in the week, Anthony Cosenza posted a piece on his five potential breakout players for the Bengals in 2012. In the comments section of that piece, Cincy Jungle's Joe Goodberry made a comment listing his five "break down" players for the team. If you're wondering what this list means, it's a prediction of which Bengals players we think will take a step back in 2012. Since Joe didn't have the foresight to publish his comment as a post, we did it for him. You're welcome, Joe.)
Every NFL team has significant players on their roster that inevitably takes a step back at some point. Sometimes these player take this step back in performance and it's only in the stat column, though they did make their impact known. Other times, these players just have an "off year" and don't have the same impact that fans of the team have come to expect. This list breaks down some of the Bengals players that we think could take a step back.
5.) Manny Lawson, seventh season, outside linebacker: I’ve never been high on Lawson. I think he’s too stiff, upright and doesn’t make many plays or play enough backup roles for a starter who plays only 40% of snaps. Though he made some plays in the Bengals No.7 ranked defense from 2011, his position was constantly rotated and he didn't play as many snaps as Rey Maualuga or Thomas Howard.
He had his second-lowest sack total as a pro in 2011 and was responsible for zero turnovers. In terms of total tackles, he had his third-lowest total. All in all, it was a mediocre statistical year for Lawson. It's possible that a second year in the same system and a full offseason will allow Lawson to flourish in 2012, but it's also quite possible that he has hit his peak and might not do anything more than he did in 2011.
4.) Nate Clements, twelfth season, cornerback: He was solid last year but could fall off a cliff at any moment. Moving him to safety could prolong that decline, though it doesn't appear that that move is occurring anytime soon. Though he performed admirably in the No.2 corner role for the majority of the 2011 season, he was merely a band-aid on the team's loss of Johnathan Joseph.
If the team's plans are to keep Clements at corner, he's likely only going to provide any kind of contribution for one more year. After that, the team will likely be relying on Dre Kirkpatrick to be able to step in as a starter.
3.) Domata Peko, ninth season, defensive tackle: Peko’s greatest strength and asset to this team is leadership and system knowledge. As the younger players get older (Atkins, Dunlap, MJ93, Still & Thompson), Peko won’t have an advantage on any of them and his days could be numbered.
Still, Peko brings size and tenacity and that doesn't always show up in the stat column. He'll likely have a roster spot on this team as long as he's healthy and effective, though his days as a starter could be in jeopardy after the additions of Still and Thompson in the 2012 Draft.
2.) Benjarvus Green-Ellis, fifth season, running back: BJGE is one of the least talented RBs in the NFL. He’s not the longterm answer at RB and this will still be one of the big needs going into 2013. Though he'll provide help in short-yardage situations and in the red zone, he's not a home run threat and there will be very few flashy aspects to his game. Like Clements and a few other on the team's roster, Green-Ellis appears to be just a band-aid over the position's situation.
1.) Andrew Whitworth, seventh season, offensive tackle:
This one isn't going to be popular, I'm sure. Whitworth is 30 years old and coming off of a pretty average (to be nice) second half of 2011. He was bothered by an injury that sounds like it could be reoccurring and he’s also losing weight. We’ve seen this hurt our around 30 year old players coming off of injury.
Whitworth is largely considered one of the team's best players and a locker room leader. While the leadership aspect isn't questioned, the "best player" tag is. No one is claiming that he is a subpar player because he isn't. But he has yet to supplant Jake Long or Joe Thomas in the Pro Bowl. Some of that has to do with the team's market size and those players' draft positions. Some of it has to do with actual performance. If he declined in 2012, don’t be surprised.