Yesterday, we took a look at the Bengals' biggest needs on offense. Now, here's a look at the biggest remaining needs on defense.
As of now, the projected starting linebackers are Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur. Then comes A.J. Hawk, Marquis Flowers and Jayson DiManche on the bench.
This is all assuming Vontaze Burfict opens the year on PUP and misses at least the first six games. He can't be counted on early in the year, and without Burfict, the linebacker position is dangerously thin. Adding a young, athletic linebacker who can get sideline to sideline and possibly even rush the passer would be a nice addition.
There's also the fact that DiManche, Rey and Lamur will be free agents in 2016. Adding another linebacker is big for both this year and the future.
Going into 2015, safety is actually down on the Bengals' biggest needs. However, when you look ahead to 2016, there's not as much certainty regarding the future at the position. George Iloka is entrenched as the free safety, but his rookie deal ends next year.
And then there's Reggie Nelson, who turns 32 in September, while also becoming a free agent in 2016. The only other safety that's played snaps is Shawn Williams, who has played all of 39 snaps in his first two NFL seasons since being taken in the third round out of Georgia.
The Bengals must draft a safety at some point this year as insurance in case one or both of Iloka and Nelson aren't back in 2016.
The Bengals finished dead last in sacks last season. They don't rely on sacks from the backers and defensive backs, putting a lot of pressure on the defensive line to carry the load.
While Michael Johnson is back, there's reason to doubt he'll reclaim his pre-2014 form, especially with Mike Zimmer now in Minnesota. Robert Geathers is gone. Wallace Gilberry also looked like a 30-year-old last year, and Will Clarke and Margus Hunt did nothing to show they're capable of generating a consistent pass rush.
It's time to spend a high draft pick on a defensive end. The last time the Bengals spent even a second round pick on a DE, they got Carlos Dunlap. One of their first two picks this year needs to be used on a pass-rusher.
The Bengals are looking good at the three technique with Geno Atkins starting and Brandon Thompson being a capable backup. Nose tackle is a glaring hole though with Domata Peko looking like he's 30 (turns 31 in November), and Devon Still...well, he should not be counted on to contribute a lot.
The Bengals should spend a first-round pick on a NT, and I say that because of the depth at that position. Whether it's Florida State's Eddie Goldman, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips or Texas' Malcom Brown, there should a be quality NT at pick No. 21.