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ESPN ranks Bengals offensive line among best NFL units

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The Bengals’ offensive line should remain one of the best in the NFL for the 2016 season.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ offensive line probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves most of the time.

Despite seemingly never-ending criticism, they’ve managed to put together a unit that has consistently become a top-10 threat. In fact, over the last three years, the Bengals’ offensive line has ranked at least in the top 10 in terms of sacks given up. They were ranked No. 3 in both 2013 and 2014.

In certain situations and circumstances, it’s not hard to understand why the unit gets such a bad rap sometimes. In particular, starting center Russell Bodine and former starting right tackle Andre Smith have been noted as bringing the unit’s performance down pretty significantly.

However, it’s not an issue that has kept them from being noted as one of the best and most efficient units in the league. The unit as a whole may have a few detractors that bring the unit’s overall performance down. That’s still not enough to keep them from being considered one of the best offensive line units in the NFL.

For example, they were recently ranked as the No. 4 best unit in the league by ESPN’s Field Yates, despite losing their starting right tackle and the struggles of their starting center.

4. Cincinnati Bengals offensive line

Cincinnati has relied on a draft-and-develop mantra that has helped fortify one of the best rosters in football. The Bengals' offensive line has quietly emerged as one of the best in football and shouldn't fade any time soon. Andrew Whitworth remains a steady force at left tackle, while the interior trio of guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling and center Russell Bodine is talented and dependable. The trio collectively missed just 15 offensive snaps last season. The right tackle job remains up for grabs with Andre Smith now in Minnesota, but between veteran Eric Winston and 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi, there are good options. Jake Fisher, a 2015 second-round pick who was a super-sub last season, has versatility to play almost anywhere on the line.

The struggles of Bodine and Smith have not gone unnoticed. In 2015, the Bengals selected two offensive tackles with their first and second round picks. At the time, Andrew Whitworth was seen as a pro bowl caliber left tackle who, despite being 33, didn’t show many signs of slowing down. Therefore, drafting two high-end tackles was generally seen as more of a strong message toward the embattled Smith.

Smith’s contract was up at the end of the year and he didn’t really improve much, so the Bengals didn’t try too hard to stop him from moving on to the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the season. At this point, it seems as though 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi will be the next in line at right tackle. Whatever the case, that allows an already strong unit to drop one of its weaker components and build from there.

Bodine doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, but the fact that his performances haven’t been up to par is something that the coaching staff would be crazy to ignore. They haven’t started digging deep for a replacement for the embattled center yet, but they did select former Arizona State guard Christian Westerman in the fifth round of the 2016 draft.

Westerman has experience at center and was originally projected to be taken in the second or third round on sheer talent alone. That’s not to say that he’s going to steal Bodine’s job this year, but his presence should definitely be a motivating factor for Bodine to consider as he prepares for the 2016 season.

There’s always going to be more work to do when it comes to building any unit in the NFL. But, with guys like Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, and Clint Boling paving the way for the success of young guys like Christian Westerman, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Jake Fisher, there seems to be plenty of room for optimism that the unit will be even better in the future.