The 2015 NFL season can't get here soon enough, and to pass the time, the guys at ESPN have put out their NFL 100 list for the upcoming season. In this top 100 list three Bengals are featured.
The list was constructed by, "more than 70 voters. NFL analysts, reporters and statisticians -- both from ESPN and outside ESPN -- including former players and NFL front-office members."
As for the Bengals, their top representative on this list was All-Pro receiver A.J. Green at No. 22:
It says a lot for Green -- who's had four straight 1,000-yard seasons and four straight Pro Bowls to start his career -- that some still see him as a player who hasn't neared his full potential. A common lament: It's not about Green. As one voter pointed out, "That's not Dan Marino throwing him the ball." After being slowed by turf toe last season, Green recently said, "I feel like the football world forgot about me." He has got millions of reasons to bounce back.
Add it up: Green's 4,874 receiving yards since entering the NFL in 2011 rank fourth overall.
There's no debating Green deserved to be on this list as he's established himself as one of the game's best pass-catchers.
Also making ESPN's list was offensive tackle, Andrew Whitworth at No. 80. The long-time Bengal often gets overlooked by many of these types of lists, but thankfully, ESPN got it right having Whit among their 100 best NFL players:
"We tracked Whitworth with just a half-sack allowed last season, which is insane for a left tackle," said one voter. Another pointed out, "He might be the most underrated player in the NFL." So why is he so low? Is there some anonymity to protecting Andy Dalton as opposed to Aaron Rodgers? The jury is out. "He doesn't allow pressure, run-blocks like a tank," one more panelist noted. "He could be an All-Pro guard if he kicked inside." The superlatives go on. Perhaps Whitworth needs a PR campaign.
Add it up: Whitworth has played 4,877 snaps over the past five seasons. That's over 500 snaps more than any other Bengal (offensive or defensive).
While seeing Whit on this list was nice, you could make a good argument for him being ranked much higher on it. After all, the guys at Pro Football, annually have him as one of their 20-30 best players and he was ranked as their 16th best player in 2014. Whitworth's 36.8 Pro Football Focus grade in 2014 was the highest grade of his nine-year career, during which he played just one position at. In 2013, Whit had a 38.4 PFF grade while playing nine games at LT in and six at LG.
The knock on Whitworth people try and use is that he plays in a quick-passing offense and doesn't have to block as long as linemen in other offenses. Fair enough, but you can't overlook the fact that Whit was ranked as the No. 5 run-blocker by PFF in 2014 and 11th best in 2013. He may not truly be one of the 20 or even 30 best players in the NFL, but he's absolutely one of the 100 best.
That's also true of Bengals' defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who came in on this list at No. 77:
Anybody who saw Atkins in 2012 would think this slot is impossibly low. The only D-lineman more disruptive during that season is No. 1 on this list. Atkins was an All-Pro, a dominating run defender who chipped in 12.5 sacks. An injury in 2013 was a serious setback, but don't be surprised if the dominance returns -- he was a Pro Bowler in 2014 and should get even better. "I still think he's the best D-tackle in his draft class," said one panelist. "And that class contained both Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. He's the leverage king."
Add it up: Atkins has 32 career sacks, the third most by a Bengals player in his first five seasons since sacks became official in 1982.
Atkins wasn't a top-100 player in 2014 while coming off a devastating ACL tear in 2013, but it appears he's back to full health now and looking like the guy who was one of the 10-15 best players in football from 2011-13.
While seeing three Bengals on this list, there are others who could stake claims as top-100 players, like safety George Iloka. After becoming one of the best young safeties in the NFL last year, Iloka actually made ESPN's Ultimate 53-man Roster. He was also named PFF's Bengals Secret Superstar for 2015.
Then there's Kevin Zeitler, who was PFF's No. 9 offensive guard in 2014 and ranked 12th in 2012. If nothing else, Zeitler should have gotten an honorable mention, had there been one included in ESPN's list.
Other than that, this was about as much respect as the Bengals have gotten in any form of a top-100 list this offseason.