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Football Outsiders: Bengals biggest need is slot receiver

Football Outsiders ran through teams in the AFC North, charting the biggest needs for each. The Cincinnati Bengals have a need at slot receiver... and we mostly agree.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals spent the offseason doing three things: Re-signing role players from a slim group of free agents, preparing for scenarios that may not include Vontaze Burfict and drafting players who could be featured in the team's plans if the 2016 group of free agents leave for new homes next year.

What they didn't address was slot receiver... at least that's the opinion of Scott Kacsmar with Football Outsiders.

That still leaves the passing game as the area where the Bengals need to improve the most, but there is no improving on Andy Dalton at quarterback this offseason. What the Bengals can do is enhance what's around him, and this offense is currently lacking a quality slot receiver. Dalton tends to overthrow his receivers and force high catches, so if the Bengals have someone capable of running underneath routes that are easy to complete, then Dalton's efficiency should pick up and it would help keep the offense on schedule.

I'm OK with the idea of improving the slot receiver position. However, the continued theme of "surrounding Dalton with talent" won't end until every remaining offensive player earns a spot at the Pro Bowl.

Cincinnati signed deep threat Denarius Moore, but he has caught just 46.9 percent of his career targets -- the exact opposite of a high-percentage receiver. A.J. Green is a great receiver, but he is not one of those high-percentage slot weapons. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, we tracked 30.2 percent of Dalton's throws to Green as being uncatchable in 2014. That is largely on the quarterback, but it also speaks to the types of routes the receiver runs in the offense. Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones are coming off injury-plagued seasons and Mohamed Sanu disappeared down the stretch. Sanu averaged 7.8 targets per game thru Week 12, but had just 12 targets and 71 receiving yards in the final five games. Sanu also had the third-highest rate of dropped passes among wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information game charting.

Everyone needs to earn a spot at the dinner table this year -- based on the paragraph above, it's agreeable that criticism thrown at Dalton isn't entirely fair.

Slot receiver Wes Welker is still a free agent. In 2014, Welker had the lowest rate of uncatchable targets among wide receivers (9.4 percent). It's hard to miss a guy who rarely runs more than eight yards down the field. Welker has had his share of concussion problems, but he could be a value signing at this stage. Third-and-5 would be a bit easier for Dalton if a quality underneath option were an alternative to forcing another high ball to Green 15 yards down the field.

Nice. But, still... Welker being a free agent in late May should send a few red flags.