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Poll: Which Bengals replacement has the biggest shoes to fill?

Several players will be stepping into starting and rotational roles in 2016.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2016 season, the Bengals will have several players stepping into starting roles and key rotational positions they didn't previously hold. With the offseason departures of Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andre Smith, Wallace Gilberry, A.J. Hawk, Emmanuel Lamur and Reggie Nelson, as well as potentially Leon Hall, Cincinnati will need its 2016 roster to step up to the task.

The Bengals could add another player or two prior to training camp, so there's potential for more names to add to the list (or replace), but for now, here's a look at some of the Bengals who will be expected to make an impact in 2016 in a way they previously didn't. Who do you think has the biggest shoes to fill?

Brandon LaFell, wide receiver: LaFell has been a solid number two or three receiver in each of his six years pro--four on the Panthers and two on the Patriots. Regardless of his quarterback, whether Tom Brady or Cam Newton (who prior to LaFell's departure was an average-or-worse passer), the wide receiver has consistently put up about 600-700 yards per season with four or so scores to go along with the yards. LaFell doesn't have stellar hands, and he's not incredibly good at one aspect of the receiving game, but he's good enough to create separation when needed and tally about 50 receiving yards per game. He'll likely be a downgrade from Marvin Jones, but is the downgrade from Jones to LaFell less-important or more significant than the changes happening elsewhere on the team?

Tyler Boyd, wide receiver: The rookie wideout will likely see a significant volume of snaps early in his career, as Sanu rightfully bolted for Atlanta when the Falcons offered him a massive contract. Boyd will probably do most of his work in the slot, where Sanu had excelled before his departure. Similarly to the transition from Jones to LaFell, making the switch from Sanu to Boyd may not be the most important change on the team, or even on the offense, as the Bengals still have A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert to rely on in the passing game and two capable running backs who can move the chains on the ground.

Cedric Ogbuehi, offensive tackle: Ogbuehi figures to man the vacancy at right tackle with Andre Smith now in Minnesota, but he'll need to prove himself before he's considered an upgrade. Despite his inconsistency at times, Smith was still a league-average right tackle--Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him graded as No. 15 at the position. Ogbuehi, once viewed as a potential top 10 Draft pick before he was injured in his final college game, Texas A&M's Bowl game, has big shoes to fill--literally--but many are confident he's ready and capable to do just that.

Marcus Hardison, defensive tackle: Wallace Gilberry was more versatile than most gave him credit for during his tenure in Cincinnati, and it could show if Hardison isn't ready to fill the void left by his departure. Hardison, drafted in 2015, figures to see snaps at nickel defensive tackle, where Gilberry was once a very effective pass-rusher. In 2013, Gilberry tallied seven sacks, mostly as a rotational player. If Hardison can provide a reliable pass rush up the middle on passing downs, he could help Cincinnati's defense push to become the best in all of football.

Will Clarke, defensive end: Gilberry's departure indicates a changing of the guard at nickel defensive tackle, but someone will also need to back up the Bengals' starting defensive ends. Hardison figures to play inside, which leaves Clarke and Margus Hunt on the outside to fight for snaps. Clarke is listed as a right end behind Michael Johnson, while Hunt is listed as a left end behind Carlos Dunlap. Clarke played 134 snaps last season--twice as many as Hunt--so he figures to see the majority of the workload as the backup defensive end. If Clarke can tally three or four sacks in 2016, his season will be considered a success.

Karlos Dansby, linebacker: The Bengals brought in A.J. Hawk to act as a veteran leader in the linebacking corps last season, and they made a similar move in bringing Dansby into the fold this offseason. This time around, however, they're hoping things will pan out a bit differently. With Hawk and Emmanuel Lamur gone, Dansby is slated as the Bengals' strong side linebacker in the team's base 4-3 packages. He'll also likely see some playing time in nickel packages, as he graded out as one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL last season. With Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season, Dansby will likely play a large role in replacing the former NFL tackles leader.

Darqueze Dennard, cornerback: There's still a chance Leon Hall returns to the Bengals, but even if he does, Dennard will likely start as the slot corner this upcoming season. Hall may be the best active player in the NFL who has never made a Pro Bowl, and his lack of accolades has seemed to cause many to underrate his career in Cincinnati. Hall lost a step last season, but he was still a serviceable slot corner and far from a total liability. Dre Kirkpatrick struggled in his first full season as a starter, and he was grilled by fans despite the Bengals boasting one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Kirkpatrick figures to improve in Year 2, but his success could potentially depend on Dennard being sticky in coverage. If Dennard can be an average-or-better corner in 2016, the Bengals' entire cornerback corps could hugely benefit.

Shawn Williams, safety: No one is expecting Williams to replicate Reggie Nelson's eight 2015 interceptions, but he still has some huge shoes to fill. When the Bengals made the switch from Mike Zimmer to Paul Guenther, the defense became much more conservative and blitzed far less often than it did under Zimmer, mainly because Guenther felt his unit had more talent than its opponents. Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated thinks Williams has huge shoes to fill, and he posed this question as an example of the potential impact of the switch from Nelson to Williams: Will Guenther continue to feel comfortable playing safer two-deep coverages with Williams in a full-time role for the first time? It's a valid question; if Guenther isn't comfortable, Taylor Mays, Josh Shaw, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem and/or others could potentially play significant roles on the defense to compensate for Nelson's loss.