clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals 2016 season awards: Most Improved Player of the Year

Though the Bengals haven’t had the amount of production they have hoped for in recent draft classes, some young players really stepped up this year.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As the 2016 season wore on and injuries piled up for the Cincinnati Bengals, young players on the roster saw increased time on the field. Free agency attrition also played a role in some players who were previously buried on the depth chart getting more snaps than they had before.

The "Most Improved Player" season award is similar to the "Comeback Player of the Year" in that it gauges year-to-year performance. However, the former is more catered to younger players on the spectrum and/or those who received bigger roles this past season. Hence, we've kept those on the Comeback Player of the Year list off of this one.

Cast your vote for the Bengals' Most Improved Player of 2016 and sound off on your selection in the comments!

Rex Burkhead, Running Back: In the previous two seasons, Burkhead was primarily used as a third back on the depth chart, as well as the occasional receiving option in the Bengals' offense. He always displayed great hands for a running back, but this year he showcased his running ability in the wake of injuries to Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. After netting just 31 combined rushing yards from 2013-2015, Burkhead had 344 rushing yards this year, including a 119-yard effort in the season finale. He had career-highs in touchdowns (two), receptions (17) and receiving yards (145).

C.J. Uzomah, Tight End: As a rookie in 2015, the raw tight end had just one catch for four yards. Because of injuries to Tyler Eifert and a perceived ineffectiveness of Tyler Kroft in the passing game (as well as injuries there, too), Uzomah stepped up nicely this year. Though he missed six games in 2016 (some as a healthy scratch), Uzomah still had 25 catches for 234 yards and his first career touchdown. Though there were a couple of early drops, the athleticism the Bengals are unearthing is there, as evidenced by a 54-yard gallop in the opener against the Jets.

Margus Hunt, Defensive End: Hunt hasn't been the pass-rusher the Bengals envisioned when they took him in the second round of the 2013, but he turned a bit of a corner in 2016. As a rotational lineman up front, he racked up career-highs in tackles (nine), passes defended (two) and tackles-for-loss (two). He also blocked three kicks, one of which was key in the Bengals' win against the New York Jets in Week 1.

Shawn Williams, Safety: It was a rough start to the season for Williams, as big plays by opposing pass offenses were the norm in the first part of the year. However, as he settled into being an NFL starting safety for the first time, he grabbed three interceptions (a career-best), along with 81 total tackles, a sack and five passes defended. He had big shoes to fill with Reggie Nelson's departure, but Williams' career pendulum could be swinging upward toward continued improvement.

Josh Shaw, Defensive Back: In his second season, Shaw had some ups and downs, but he also showcased his defensive versatility. As both a safety and corner, Shaw racked up 56 total tackles, three passes defended, as well as a game-clinching interception against the Jets.