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NFL Future Power Rankings Not High on Cincinnati Bengals

The future of the Bengals isn't as bright as was once though, according to ESPN.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2013 NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals were viewed as one of the best NFL teams when it came to the amount of youth and talent on their roster with the potential to make dramatic improvements in the coming seasons.

Things have changed though. Mike Zimmer, arguably the best defensive coordinator in football, is now the Minnesota Vikings head coach.

Michael Johnson, one of the game's best defensive ends when it comes to pressuring the QB and being able to defend the run, is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Andy Dalton, entering a contract year, has made only minor improvement each year since joining the NFL ion 2011, and his ceiling may have been reached.

ESPN released it's NFL Future Power Rankings, and coming in at unlucky No. 13 were the Bengals. Even worse was that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were ranked ahead of Cincinnati.

Here's what Mike Sando, Louis Riddick and Mel Kiper had to say about the Bengals:

Note that the Bengals rank fifth in drafting and 12th in the front office. Analysts have acknowledged the gains in roster-building made with owner Mike Brown and player personnel director Duke Tobin building a team that has reached the playoffs three successive years. They'll need more consistency from quarterback Andy Dalton to take the next step. --Mike Sando

The dilemma: Simply put, this team has the individual components necessary to challenge for the AFC crown when things are operating on all cylinders, but what will drive this train (or derail it), in '14 and possibly beyond, is where Dalton goes, from a developmental perspective. Much is riding on this season for some individual coaches on the staff and for Dalton's financial future. --Louis Riddick

Last year, the Bengals handed the ball to BenJarvus Green-Ellis 220 times. What a waste. Green-Ellis might hold on to the ball, but he's not going anywhere with it. Not only did he average just 3.4 yards per carry but only two of 220 carries went for more than 15 yards.

Jeremy Hill is a running back, yes. So he's not the future of the franchise. But he could make a major impact in the team's immediate future, as not merely a change of pace to Giovani Bernard, but a guy who could provide a lot of yardage behind good blocking if he gets all of the Law Firm's carries. --Mel Kiper

That was pretty harsh by Kiper. Green-Ellis isn't a guy you want as your No. 1 back, but he's still a capable backup.

As for Dalton, Riddick was spot on. How much he continues to develop will dictate how far the Bengals are able to go in 2014 and beyond. If he regresses, the Bengals will almost assuredly fall out of the playoffs this year while leaving a major black cloud of doubt hanging over the franchise.

But if he improves, the Bengals will advance past the first round of the playoffs, and could even make a run to the Super Bowl.