The Bengals' offense is loaded with nightmare matchups and it is the perfect demonstration of a pick your poison juggernaut. On defense, the Bengals are above average and players like Geno Atkins, Adam Jones and Carlos Dunlap are proving to be among the NFL's best at their positions. And, special teams are also contributing with excellent field position, clutch plays and with some nasty tackles by special teams ace Cedric Peerman.
It seems rare then to look for weaknesses, but let's be honest, as good as this team is, there are still some holes and some players that have either failed to meet expectations or just to contribute at all.
Thinking of who should be listed among the biggest letdown players from the first half of 2015, I was almost forgetting that defensive end Margus Hunt was still on the roster. Then, I remembered SB Nation's Stephen White predicted Hunt to be the Bengals' breakout player for 2015. Of course his failure at even cracking the rotation is overstated, but mind you, he is a second round pick and despite being in his third season in the NFL he is already 28. I am not going to list the players taken after him in the draft that Cincinnati could be using right now, but a second round pick is a hefty price for a preseason star.
The big Estonian came into the league on top of CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman's "Freak List" of the 10 most freakish athletes in college. He was deemed a "PlayStation football creation". Then defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer acknowledged Hunt was still very raw but had a chance to become great. Three years later we are still waiting to see him play consistently. He dealt with some injuries this summer, but he looks out of chances with Will Clarke and pass rusher Chris Carter established as solid role players. In fact he was only activated for the first time this season against the Browns and played two meaningless snaps on defense. After so much hype I was actually hoping for a blocked punt already, which he came close to, but didn't manage.
A more appropriate candidate could be cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is one the most debated players on the Bengals' current roster. He is also a former first round pick, and by no means has he lived up to his potential, but he is still a starter. Cincinnati has picked up Kirkpatrick's fifth year option for 2016, but many want to see more of second-year corner Darqueze Dennard.
Kirkpatrick had some heads up plays last year when filling in for his injured teammates, but he has also been burned plenty of times. This season he is probably the defense's most glaring hole, considering Vontaze Burfict is now back in the mix to help at the linebacker position. As fans, we were expecting more from Kirkpatrick this season.
Veteran Reggie Nelson's inclusion on this list is unfair, and I know that. He's an ageing player in a position where athleticism and speed, or lackthereof, shows big time. He's been struggling even though he already has three interceptions and has played almost 100% of the snaps on defense. His open field tackling and closing speed is a liability, and when he teams up with Kirkpatrick in the "Corner of Death" it is scary. After many years performing at an excellent level, Nelson is only included here because of how fast his decline has been from one season to another. Nelson is still a player I'd be uncomfortable saying has been a letdown this season, but good teams usually have this embarrassment of riches.
Nobody wants to read this but Jeremy Hill is next. The talented running back is having some issues with an offense that can't afford to deploy a fullback for every running snap and can't do it anyway to avoid getting predictable. His burst after his first step following the cut is still there, but Giovani Bernard gives the Bengals more chances from the shotgun and single back formations and Hill has also lost two fumbles this season. Just like Bernard struggled last season with a heavy running scheme, his second year counterpart is having issues so far in 2015.
Jeremy Hill very honest about his season today: "Personally, I think I have to step it up. I haven't played to my potential." #Bengals— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) November 9, 2015
Hill is still very talented and can bounce back anytime, but after an awesome first season we were expecting he would better than 3.3 yards per carry. He looks like he's back on the right track after two decent outings versus Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Our last "biggest letdown" candidate and probably the one many fans believe deserves this nomination most is no other than center Russell Bodine. He is just struggling mightily. The fourth round pick out of North Carolina was supposed to be a terminator, somebody so strong that defensive tackles would rather go back to the locker room than face him. Instead, he just gets pushed badly and his feet made of concrete make everything even worse. It's not that we didn't know he was going to be a liability after last season, but there was some hope that he'd improve, right? Am I alone in thinking that prior to this season, the hope was he could become a below average starter instead of a terrible one?