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Bengals Roster Reset: State of Defensive Tackle position

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Domata Peko's days in Cincinnati may be numbered.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NFL Draft has come and gone, so it's time for a roster reset and breakdown of every position.

As much attention as other various positions were getting going into the NFL draft, you could have made a good argument for defensive tackle being the team's biggest need, even though it's an area where several quality guys are signed through 2016.

To some degree, the Bengals were good defending the run in 2015, finishing seventh in rushing defense. However, that came in large part because teams were often playing from behind against Cincinnati. In fact, no NFL team had fewer runs attempted again them than the Bengals this past season (344 attempts).

On the other side, teams attempted the second most passes against Cincinnati (646) in 2015. That actually played into the Bengals' hands as they ranked fourth in passing yards allowed per pass attempt (6.6), fifth in opponent passer rating (78.9) and allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes (18).

But against the run, the Bengals were tied for the 10th-highest rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.3). They also allowed an average of 113 rushing yards per game over their final three games, two of which were losses. Making that stat even more painful was that those losses came by a combined five points, and one of the losses was to the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

That was a game Cincinnati dominated in the first half, but their run defense came apart in the second half and allowed Denver to rally from a 14-0 deficit to a 20-17 win in overtime.

Then in the Wild Card round, the Pittsburgh offense gashed the Bengals for 167 yards on the ground, with their third and fourth string running backs and had complete control of the game until Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury. If Cincinnati did a better job defending the run, that game probably wouldn't have come down to the where the Bengals made several dumb penalties before losing the game.

New Additions

All of this is why the Bengals needed to address defensive tackle in this year's draft, and they did that with a  quality addition in Round 4 of the drafted and added more in undrafted free agency.

It began with Baylor Bears star nose tackle Andrew Billings with the 122nd pick. It's not often you're able to get the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year on Day 3, but the Bengals somehow pulled that off and bolstered the interior of their defensive line.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that had that low of a grade/projection on Billings. He was just too good of a prospect to fall that far, yet that's exactly what happened before Cincy pulled off maybe the steal of the draft.

That wasn't the only notable defensive tackle the Bengals added as they signed Virginia star David Dean as soon as the draft ended. Dean, a 6'1", 290-pound tackle, was the heart of the Cavaliers' defensive line the last two seasons, making 45 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in 11 games.

Over his final three seasons, Dean racked up 134 stops, 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks across 35 games. That's good production for any lineman, let alone one playing in a Power 5 conference that produced nine bowl-eligible teams as the Cavaliers faced nine bowl teams as well. Dean actually had a draftable grade on NFL.com, so don't underestimate his ability to make the 53-man roster or practice squad.

Returning players

As for the current guys, Geno Atkins returned to form in 2015 after a torn ACL in 2013 and a slow recovery in 2014, but there isn't really a true star next to him in the starting lineup. Domata Peko has played fairly well, but he's going to be 32 in November and is on the final year of his deal. With his replacement in place in Billings, it's hard to see Peko in Cincinnati beyond 2017.

Beyond Peko and Atkins, the Bengals also have veterans Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims, as well as developmental young players in DeShawn Williams and Marcus Hardison. Sims is the lone veteran who should be on the final roster as a backup after he's done well in that role during his career in Cincinnati. However, if he's outplayed by the other guys in camp and through the preseason, cutting Sims only carries a $250,000 cap hit in 2016 and none in 2017, even though he's signed through next year.

The Bengals drafted Hardison in the 2015 draft as a flexible lineman who could play any position on the line. Williams was an UDFA out of Clemson last year, but he was one of the biggest stories of training camp last year as an impressive undrafted rookie who eventually did enough to make the Practice Squad. He made it onto the 53-man roster in the playoffs after Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Week 17.

That injury will likely lead to Thompson opening the year on PUP so he doesn't have to work through that in camp while being limited and facing a tough shot at making the final roster. He needs those extra 6-8 weeks to get close to 100 percent and possibly get on the 53-man roster if there's an opportunity for him to join there.

The Bengals will keep 4-5 tackles when the final roster is made in September. It's becoming clear that figuring out who those last 1-2 guys will be is one of the tougher calls to make with this roster.

Here's a look at what the depth chart at defensive tackle looks like now heading into the summer.

Starters: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko

Backups with a great shot of making the final roster: Pat Sims, Andrew Billings

Squarely on the Bubble: DeShawn Williams, David Dean

PUP Candidates: Brandon Thompson

Wildcard: Does Marcus Hardison primarily play DT or DE? If it's the former, he goes to being squarely on the bubble, but I think he sticks to DE with that position being very thin after Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.