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Offseason Positional Outlook: Defensive End

The most disappointing position group of the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals had to be the defensive line, and the most disappointing part of the defensive line, in my opinion, were the defensive ends. After a league low 20 sacks, have the Bengals improved enough along the line?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Depth Chart (5)

Starters: Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry

Backups: Robert Geathers, Margus Hunt, Will Clarke,

PS: Sam Montgomery

2014 Recap:

The Bengals were dead last in the NFL with 20 sacks last season. Two players on other teams (Justin Houston and J.J. Watt) individually had more sacks than the entire Bengals team. The Bengals defensive ends compiled a total of just 11.5 sacks – 11 players had 11.5+ sacks by themselves. Of those 11.5 sacks, Carlos Dunlap accounted for 8 of them. The Bengals other four defensive ends (Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers, Margus Hunt and Will Clarke) piled up a whopping 3.5 sacks among their group… 114 NFL players had at least 3.5 sacks individually in 2014. So, it is safe to say, the Bengals defensive ends were a problem in 2014.

Carlos Dunlap had a solid year, but outside of Dunlap, the Bengals defensive ends were nothing more than orange cones masquerading as NFL players.  Gilberry’s sacks dropped from 7.5 in 2013 to 1.5 in 2014 – despite playing more snaps. Hunt – when healthy – still looked slow and lost and performed nowhere near what the coaches had promised. Clarke rarely saw the field – and never saw the quarterback. And Geathers stole money from the Brown family for 9th time in the past 10 seasons. With Geathers gone and Michael Johnson back, the Bengals must get better production from their ends.

2015 Outlook:

Carlos Dunlap

Carlos Dunlap flies under the radar of the national media, mainly because he has never had a double digit sack season, but make no mistake, Dunlap is a legit Pro-Bowl caliber defensive end. In 2014, Dunlap was the only difference maker on the Bengals’ defensive line and accounted for 40% of the team’s sacks (8.0). Along with leading the team in sacks, Dunlap also lead the Bengals in tackles for loss (9), and lead the defensive line in tackles (66) and passes knocked down (4). No one will benefit more from a healthy Atkins and return of Michael Johnson as much as Dunlap.

Michael Johnson

I think this was a solid re-signing, but a common misconception with Michael Johnson is that he is the type of player that will get double digit sacks. Johnson has had one season where he accumulated more than 6 sacks (11.5), and 5 of those sacks came in two games. So, don’t expect Michael Johnson’s return alone to drastically improve the Bengals’ pass rush. Expect 4-5 sacks from Johnson – a sack total that would have ranked him behind only Dunlap on the 2014 Bengals team. However, where Johnson actually helps is in the run game and his ability to disrupt plays and push the quarterback into other players.

Wallace Gilberry

Gilberry was one of the bigger disappointments in 2014. In fact, it was his breakout 2013 season – 7.5 sacks in limited playing time – which helped the Bengals feel comfortable letting Johnson walk after the 2013 season. Despite more playing time in 2014, Gilberry dropped to just 1.5 sacks in 2014 and showed that he can be an effective role player and rotational guy, but not an every down NFL starting end.

Margus Hunt

Speaking of 2014 disappointments, all offseason we heard about Margus Hunt’s progress, which was another reason the Bengals let Johnson walk. I never saw the progress. In Hunt’s defense, he was injured most of the year, but even when healthy, he looked slow and appeared to be thinking way too much. If Hunt doesn’t progress in 2015, this could be his last season with the Bengals.

Will Clarke

The Bengals were high on Clarke’s potential when they took him late in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft, but he was seen more as a project type player who was not expected to play much as a rookie. Unfortunately, due to injuries and ineffective play, Clarke saw less playing time than the Bengals probably anticipated. Like Hunt, Clarke needs to show more in 2015 or this could be his last season with the Bengals.

Sam Montgomery

The Bengals had a league low 20 sacks and Sam Montgomery spent the year on the practice squad. That tells you nearly all you need to know about how much he can contribute. Barring a rash of injuries, Montgomery will likely not be in stripes by the time the 2015 season starts.

Outside Competition

2015 Positional Free Agency Outlook

I don’t see the Bengals signing any additional free agents at the defensive end position. Johnson gives them a legitimate starter opposite Dunlap and more importantly, allows more rotation along the line.

2015 Positional Draft Outlook

Despite the signing of Johnson, the Bengals know they need to upgrade their pass rush, and therefore I believe the Bengals will still draft a defensive end. However, I no longer think that will come in the first three rounds – unless someone they really like falls to them and is too good to pass up.

General Roster Makeup: 5 Defensive Ends

2015 Roster Prediction (5):

Dunlap, Johnson, Gilberry, Hunt, Clarke,

PS (1): Rookie

2015 Positional Stock Outlook:

On the Rise

This may come as a shock, especially since the only change that was made at defensive end was bringing in a 4-5 sack veteran (Johnson), but I think Johnson’s presence and Atkins being healthy will elevate the play of all of the ends. I believe Gilberry will be more effective as a role player and that Hunt and Clarke are better than what we saw in 2014. While this won’t be a top 5 or 10 pass rush, it won’t be 32nd either.