For the duration of Mike Zimmer's tenure in Cincinnati, the Bengals routinely had one of the NFL's best secondaries. Whether it was Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph or Terence Newman shutting receivers down while Reggie Nelson, Roy Williams or Chris Crocker enforcing the middle of the field, Cincinnati's secondary was one opposing teams were never thrilled to face.
Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth ranked the best secondaries in the NFL. Trailing only the Seattle Seahawks in terms of the NFL's best secondary was the Bengals.
The Bengals finished third in the NFL at stopping No. 1 receivers, third against No. 2 receivers and sixth against Nos. 3-5 receivers. They did it with Geno Atkins hurt for much of the year, sapping some of their pass-rush capability. So the secondary was doing something right.
The Bengals played lots of man coverage last year, with Nelson sometimes blitzing or covering a tight end/slot guy and Iloka roving, so Bengals corners often faced difficult assignments. They kept plays in front of them well, tackled flat and screen receivers for minimal gains, shut down first reads and of course helped the defense intercept 20 passes.
Tanier believes the Bengals secondary will remain elite, thanks to the addition of Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Dennard's arrival provides an additional boost. He is a natural cover corner who should step in as Newman finally runs out of Just for Men. Williams barely played last year but appeared to be coming around late in 2013 training camp. There is tons of depth here, and new coordinator Paul Guenther won't be making any major changes. The Bengals secondary does not pop out at you, but it doesn't let you complete many passes, either.
The Bengals were followed by the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns.