After a year in which many important offensive players managed to miss a lot of football, the Cincinnati Bengals have what some pundits are calling the best supporting cast in the NFL, highlighted by a good, and deep, line, one of the best receivers in the game, two additional big targets, a jack of all trades in their third wide receiver, and a dynamic duo in the backfield. If they are all healthy, Dalton should have plenty of help to make it back to the postseason and finally claim his first playoff win.
With so much talent on this end of the ball, how does each offensive unit on the Bengals’ roster rank?
1) Offensive Line
I think few could argue the Bengals’ offensive line is one of the biggest keys to their recent success. Even though there are some concerns now that Whitworth is 34-years-old, he has been one of the best, if not the best tackle in the league the past few seasons. Big and strong, his leadership is also in the mix, and his pass protection is elite, giving up just 9 total disruptions in 2014, per Pro Football Focus the lowest of any tackle to start at least 10 games. He did not give up any pressure at all in 10 games.
Whitworth’s contract expires at the end of the year, but the Bengals already addressed that, investing their first two picks in this year’s draft in two young tackles. There is another concern regarding Andre Smith, the other elite tackle who could be let go too in 2016. He has had the occasional rough game, but is also a lock on the right side and was ranked as the top right tackle in 2012 and fifth best in 2013 by Pro Football Focus. He is coming off a torn triceps and only played in 9 games last season, but, if healthy, he gives Cincinnati another Pro Bowl player at a delicate position.
Rounding out the line, Cincinnati has two more quality starters in Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler, who are both young and entering their prime. The former signed a contract extension in March, and the latter would like to prove his worth on the field this season as well, after his fifth year extension was picked up this offseason. Nonetheless, Zeitler is one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Bodine is still young, and had some hard times during his rookie campaign in 2014, but the coaches believe in him and have never considered bringing in any competition for the job. He is the only below average starter the Bengals have in the unit. And there is also depth, with rookie Jake Fisher, veteran Eric Winston and practice squad hopefuls Trey Hopkins, T.J. Johnson and Tanner Hawkinson.
2) Wide Receiver
This is where it gets tricky. I gave this decision a long thought because the running backs fared better last season and carried the offense toward the end of the season with big plays at clutch times, But, ultimately I believe the wide receiver corps are better at this point. A.J. Green is a star and is betting on himself playing under the final year of his current contract. Marvin Jones will return after missing all of last year and will open a lot of spaces for the other targets. He is going to be especially important in the red zone. During his 2013 breakout campaign, he caught 10 touchdown passes.
Sanu will go back to his natural position in the slot where he can excel not having to carry the load. He is far from perfect, but will benefit from having both Green and Jones healthy. After these three established players the unit is thin, but Rex Burkhead showed he can do a lot of good things there as well, and his game against the Colts in the playoff is a good example of that. James Wright, Denarius Moore and rookie Mario Alford should make the team, thus avoiding another Brandon Tate showing again in 2015.
Jeremy Hill is what the Bengals offense needed and he was fantastic last season. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his rookie year and also let Giovani Bernard do what he does best. It’s not that the running backs aren’t good enough to be at the top of this list, it’s just that Cincinnati is stacked with talent and these two players are going to get even better as the 2015 seasons goes on. The Bengals’ running backs offer an explosive mix of skills and a one-two punch that few teams can match.
Ryan Hewitt could become the best fullback in the NFL.. Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson want to keep him in the backfield where he can help the running game instead of playing tight end, even though he can play TE, too. Hewitt is a young, hard-working guy who filled a need the team had prior to his signing as an UDFA. Burkhead and the special teams standout Cedric Peerman join them in the unit. James Wilder Jr. could also be in the mix.
No offense to good old Andy Dalton. He has been good enough to help stabilize the franchise after some dark times, and I am not going to repeat the same debate here that we've seen far too often regarding playoff wins. It’s just that Cincinnati has so many good players elsewhere on offense. You could probably do worse than AJ McCarron, as showcased by Jason Campbell recently. And at least he seems to be pushing Dalton which is always good.
5) Tight End
There’s too much uncertainty with a young player like Tyler Eifert coming off a major injury and two rookies who have a lot to prove. Many teams would likely be glad to swap tight ends with the Bengals, though, and in this modern football era, a big guy who can catch and run is always going to be valuable.