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Cincinnati Bengals Who Overachieved in 2014

The Bengals needed these three players to step up in order to make it back to the NFL playoffs.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the Cincinnati Bengals' season effectively at a close, we'll take a look at the Bengals players that surpassed the expectations set prior to the season, and also those players that failed to meet the needs of the team. In the first edition, here's three players that had a phenomenal year.

Jeremy Hill

This was the most obvious pick, but you can't help but enjoy hearing his season rehashed on paper. The young man out of LSU had a total of 1, 124 yards on the year, but what was more impressive is amount of playing time he did it in. The first half of the season, the Bengals were still trying to find an identity for their running game - should they stick with Bernard carrying the load? Was a by-committee system the right approach?

Their answer was decided before they had a chance to make their choice in the first place; Bernard suffered a hip pointer and Jeremy Hill was thrust into the starting position at running back. He did not disappoint. A 5.1 yard per carry average is almost unheard of from NFL backs, let alone rookies. He also capped his year off with nine touchdown runs, leading the team.

Dre Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick has had a curious NFL career since his drafting out of Alabama. The problem for Dre is that many fans labeled him a bust before he even got a realistic chance to prove otherwise. Injuries kept him sidelined for much of his first two years, and a veteran cornerback trio made it hard to give the young man time at the position.

Cincinnati drafted him for youth and depth in the secondary - he wasn't meant to start immediately, if the team could help it. This year, not only has Kirkpatrick continued to provide the Bengals with a more-than-effective special teams ace (a very underrated skill set), but he has also stepped in admirably when the older cornerbacks ran into health issues during the season. He still hasn't fully adjusted to playing cornerback at an NFL level - there are things he needs to work on.

However, his ability to play the ball, his closing speed against receivers, and his knack for creating an explosive play will go a long way in giving him a starting edge once the position fall to the youth movement.

Andrew Whitworth

We've come to expect the big man to be a solid starter for the Bengals, but many fans don't quite the magnitude of the significance behind Big Whit's play. To start, he was named the third best lineman by Pro Football Focus, and was a huge snub from the 2014 season Pro Bowl. He was so good, in fact, that Whitworth actually posted a perfect pass-protection game in ten separate games this season, allowing just one sack from opposing defensive lineman.

It's not a glorious position to play, but football games are won in the trenches. The reason that Andy Dalton's sack statistic is so low is because of a stellar offensive line (when healthy) in pass protection, and Whitworth is the indisputable leader of that line.

Let us know your thoughts on the best players of the Bengals in 2014 in the comments below.