Top-Five Bengals Players With The Most To Prove: Number Five

Jamie Sabau

Counting down the top-five players with the most to prove in 2013. We start with No. 5: Michael Johnson.

What do you mean, Johnson? Hear me out first.

Johnson has gone from a third-rounder with predraft flags surrounding his work ethic, into a stud who generated 11.5 quarterback sacks last season. There are fewer than ten Bengals who have recorded double-digit quarterback sacks during a single-season; Johnson is now one of them. Only a handful of Bengals have made the four-year leap that Johnson has. It earned him a guaranteed $11.2 million after the team placed the one-year franchise tag on the defensive end. And that was during an offseason that ranked Johnson high on respective free agency lists.

But we have questions.

How much was last season due to a contract year? During the first three years, Johnson posted 11.5 quarterback sacks combined. He doubled that number last season. How much of his impact was due to other influences, such as the inside pass rush from Geno Atkins? Clearly every great player has support around him. Could Johnson led the defensive line on his own, say if Atkins suffered a sustained injury?

Though his sack numbers were up, he still produced as many hurries on the quarterback as Carlos Dunlap, who played nearly 300 fewer snaps. His eight hits on the quarterback (that didn't lead to a sack), ranked third on the team, well behind Atkins and Dunlap.

Without question Johnson has become a significant contributor for the intimidating Cincinnati Bengals defense (yes, I said intimidating). Now that he's entering another contract year, will he replicate, sustain or improve in year five? Or are we looking at another Robert Geathers situation? Proving the former only convinces the Bengals that he's deserved of a long-term deal, now that the one-year production has been sustained.

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