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5 Bengals to watch in the 2016 season finale against the Ravens

Keep an eye on these five Bengals in the 2016 season finale, a game that means as little as a regular season game can mean.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 season draws to a close with a game against Baltimore that surprisingly has no post-season implications for either team. Instead, the name of the game will likely be the future. Both sides will be seeing what their young and contract-year talent is capable of one last time before starting preparations for 2017. For that reason, there will be no big names on the list of the best players to watch this week. As much as Marvin Lewis may lead you to believe otherwise, winning is not the most important thing this Sunday. This season is already determined to be a failure and whether the team is 5-10-1 or 6-9-1 makes no difference. Analyzing the team’s current talent and nailing down positions or players of interest for the draft is (or at least should) be the real goal in Week 17 of a lost season.

1.) Margus Hunt

Hunt will be a free agent this coming offseason and the Bengals are just now seeing some signs of development from “The Eastern Block.” While contributing at defensive end as a rotational player, it has been his utility on special teams that has proven him most valuable so far. He’s blocked three kicks in the 2016 with two of those being field goals and the other an extra point. Hunt has all the physical tools in the world and is just starting to find his footing as an NFL defensive player. Cincinnati will need to decide if they want to try and retain him or let him walk this offseason. If not here, I’m confident Hunt will find suitors in free agency. Should he move on, I think he’d find more success as a 3-4 defensive end with a team like the Chiefs.

2.) Cody Core

Ken Zampese and Andy Dalton tried to get their young receiver heavily involved against the Texans but it wasn’t to much success. He was given a team high 14 targets but only came away with 8 catches for 39 yards. Core has great body length and top end speed to stretch the field, but he hasn’t found a role in a traditionally quick release offense, which Zampese is running. While Tyler Boyd has found a comfortable role in the offense as a reliable possession receiver and chain mover, Core is still struggling with growing pains. As a rookie late-round pick receiver that’s fine, but the team will likely need to decide if they want to continue to try and develop Core, or find another receiver during the offseason.

3.) Dre Kirkpatrick

Perhaps the biggest name pending free agent on Cincinnati’s roster, Dre Kirkpatrick has successfully manned up with some of the very best receivers in the NFL. Kirkpatrick has been kryptonite for the typically superhero-like Antonio Brown since the Alabama product has become an integral part of the defense. But he’s not a perfect player either. With a tendency to bite on double moves, Kirkpatrick sometimes finds himself on the wrong end of big plays. His successes against big name receivers in a relatively dry cornerback market could put #27 in position to command big money. I personally think he has earned a sizable contract, but ultimately, the team’s opinion is the only thing that matters.

4.) Russell Bodine

Bodine will still be under contract for 2017, but his play through his first three years has been uninspiring to say the least. The best thing to happen to Bodine this year was that his subpar play has been covered up by often-times abysmal play by the team’s young tackles. With a high draft pick in 2017 and a fairly deep class of centers, it wouldn’t be all too farfetched to think that Cincinnati could find a great fit at the top of the second round. Offensive Line coach Paul Alexander is still high on the North Carolina product, but with such a deep pool of talent in a usually shallow position group, you have to wonder if they might cut their losses to try to help a struggling offensive line. I don’t think they’ll be drafting any tackles in the early rounds with Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi so young, so if any high pick is used on an offensive lineman, it’ll likely be a center.

5.) Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill has been downright awful in 2016. There’s really no other way to put it. In multiple games this season, Hill has had a per carry average under 2.0, and in only one game this season has he had more than 4 yards per carry, against teams that aren’t the Browns. When you look at his season long stat sheet, his number don’t look horrible, but that’s only because he’s great at padding his stats against terrible teams. Anyone who has watched Hill play during the past two seasons knows his rookie year was likely a fluke. Even with a sub-par line, Hill makes things worse for himself with terrible vision and a far-too-rare ability to break tackles. He’s also an incapable blocker, falling far short of Rex Burkhead and Giovani Bernard in pass protection, making him essentially a two down back. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cincinnati go with a new bell cow type running back in the draft. Leonard Fournette is the first back in that mold to come to mind, but there’s also D’Onta Foreman from Texas and Jalen Hurd from Tennessee.