Despite finishing the season with a disappointing 6-9-1 record, the Bengals played well for stretches and their defense was much improved after their bye week following the London tie. The offense struggled missing many key players, but it could have fared better with more consistency in the kicking game. With some important tweaks this roster could be due a bounceback season in 2017, given that some of its best guys still performed at a high level this year.
Geno Atkins, Andrew Whitworth and A.J. Green all had great seasons and were rewarded with an overall top 50 finish by Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000 scout team, which has been grading the best 1,000 players in the league each week. Their grades are part of the reason why it’s possible to believe the Bengals will come back better next season, even if the veteran left tackle is an impending free agent whose future is unclear right now.
Atkins was the 25th best player for B/R in 2016, and only the Rams’ Aaron Donald had a higher grade among defensive tackles. The star out of Georgia was again one of the best interior pass rushers in the league leading a paltry unit with nine sacks, the third-best mark of his career. The Bengals don’t have many guys able to put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, but Atkins wreaks havoc every time he steps on the field.
Whitworth was the 41th-highest ranked player and the 11th best left tackle. The B/R scout team gives extra points to the most important positions, and left tackle is still one of the key roles in the game. Whit wasn’t as dominant as in years past, but he was still one of the bright spot on a much maligned unit, that saw a lot of rotation on the right side and still sports one of the worst starting centers in the league. Second-year player Cedric Ogbuehi showed he can’t be trusted yet, and the Bengals need no more remainders that resigning Whitworth is a must in the offseason.
Green, in spite of missing six games, was still the best wide receiver in the league and one of the shiniest stars in the game. The South Carolina native only failed to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time of his career because of an ill-timed injury, but he still led the team in catches, yards, yards per reception and was only surpassed by Brandon LaFell in targets, 107 to 100. Green had superb games like the one against the Browns at home, Hail Mary touchdown reception included, or the Thursday Night Football win against the playoff-bound Dolphins, in which he went for 8-169-1 and 10-173-1 respectively. The 43rd-highest graded player in the NFL for B/R, Green bettered every single wide receiver, topping Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones due to his other-worldly route running grade of 21.2 out of 25, more than one point more than the second best.
The Bengals’ stars were still outstanding in 2016, but their efforts weren’t enough to grant the team a sixth consecutive playoff season. Lack of depth at key spots like defensive end, wide receiver, linebacker and the mediocre play of some young players had a lot to do with it.
With the full B/R NFL 1000 rankings for the season in hand, we are going to recap the performance of every unit on the Bengals roster:
Andy Dalton’s performance varied with some great outings, like Week 13 against the Eagles, in which he finished second in the position with 83 points, to some brutal games, like Week 12 in Baltimore where he was the 31st ranked quarterback.
Overall the Bengals’ play caller was 24th of 38, outplaying guys like Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but next to the lowest-graded quarterbacks like Case Keenum, Matt Barkley or Cody Kessler. Is that his true level? Of course not, as he showed in 2015, but missing Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert and Green was painful, as it was the inconsistency of the offensive line and the lack of speed out wide with Marvin Jones Jr. in Detroit.
Hill was the 30th-highest ranked back, only six spots below Bernard, who was pretty good until he went down with injury. Hill continued the decline he showed last year and only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. That number, despite being bad, is worse if you take off the game against the Browns in which he produced 168 yards in only nine carries.
Cincinnati’s offense was much better with Bernard first and Rex Burkhead later, and the Nebraska product torched the Ravens in Week 17 when he was finally given the chance to carry the load. He didn’t appear in the overall rankings as he didn’t qualify due to a lack of snaps throughout the season, but his lowest grade was 67 points in Week 12 in Baltimore, a game in which the entire offense struggled.
Green was not only the best wideout in the entire league in spite of only playing 10 games, he had the highest grade in route running as already said, and also in the hands category - almost one point better than Antonio Brown, second best. LaFell managed to follow suit with a 29th finish that is more impressive given a couple of rough outings that he had in Week 10 and Week 11, in which he only scored 64 points. The former Patriot and Panther got great grades in route running and blocking, which are usually his most talked-about skills as a receiver.
The rookie Tyler Boyd was the 74th best player in the position, although some of that is due to a very slow start, with a 104th finish in Week 1 as an example. The slot receiver has looked like a keeper as the season went on. Fellow first-year player, Cody Core, was next at 115th, sixteen spots higher than former Bengals receiver Brandon Tate. James Wright and Alex Erickson round out the unit at 139th and 144th out 155.
Injuries were a constant all season long, but Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah all managed the occasional great game. Obviously the Notre Dame product was supposed to be again a touchdown-scoring machine in the red zone, but he ended the year sidelined again.
Eifert still got the 10th-highest grade with, surprisingly, one of the best grade in the blocking category. He had a top finish in Week 8 with 79 points, and never ranked lower than 16th. Uzomah was good when using gloves and given the chance, including a 6th place finish in Week 4 with 71 points, which helped him rank as the 30th best player in the position, above some big names like Gary Barnidge or Dwayne Allen. He outplayed fellow second-year tight end Kroft, who fell all the way to the 58th spot after slowly declining in the last two thirds of the season. Ryan Hewitt completed the unit at 68th.
We’ve already talked about Whitworth, who was, once again, very consistent, only grading lower when moved to left guard in Week 16 against the Texans. Ogbuehi wasn’t included as he didn’t play much at the position.
Ogbuehi, on the other hand, was indeed included here, as the fourth-worst player in the position after ranking regularly at the bottom. The only category in which he was at least slightly above average was agility, but that was never going to be the problem with him coming out of college. Eric Winston was a bit better at 22nd - out of 38, but he is not the long term solution for the position.
Kevin Zeitler, another key free agent-to-be, was "only" the 21st-highest ranked guard, but he had some pretty elite efforts, like in Week 7 against the Browns at home - top finish, and in Week 3 against the Broncos - 80 points. Given his age he is their best offensive lineman right now, and it should be the Bengals’ priority to resign him in the offseason.
Clint Boling didn’t finish much lower at 28th, but overall had much more pedestrian games. He was, again, Cincy’s most agile lineman with a 15 point-score that would tie the Ravens’ Marshal Yanda, as the best among guards in the NFL.
The right tackle situation made us forget for a while who the weakest link of the roster had been prior to this, but another poor year should be enough for the Bengals to end their experiment at center. Russell Bodine wasn’t the worst in the league, "only" the fourth-worst, and only Nick Mangold of the Jets was lest agile. Remember this when you wish for a second-level block from your center.
B/R distinguished between 4-3 ends and 3-4 ends so the pool of players was smaller. In spite of that, Carlos Dunlap managed only a 17th place finish, thanks to a very mediocre second half of the season in which he looked lost plenty of times. After an outstanding season in 2015, he was primed for another great year, but the lack of help from the right side and his inconsistency made him fall down the ladder. Dunlap still had the best pass rush score at the position, tied with the Vikings’ Everson Griffen.
The rest of the unit was really bad as it has been all season long. The Bengals really need un upgrade over whatever they have at the position. Out of 68 ranked players, Michael Johnson (62nd), Will Clarke (64th), Margus Hunt (66th) and Wallace Gilberry (68th), were a nightmare to watch every week for Cincy fans. They all had a week here and there in which they were not so bad, but overall they were the weakest link of the entire defense. Clearly the B/R defensive line analyst did not like the Bengals’ line.
It’s fair to say Atkins had little to no help at all this season. The veterans Domata Peko (62nd), and Pat Sims (94th out of 99), were just bodies out there, and DeShawn Williams started seeing the field far too late. The Bengals get Andrew Billings back next season though, after the rookie spent all year on Injured Reserve.
Again B/R distinguish between 4-3 outside linebackers and 3-4 outside linebackers, and only 46 players were ranked in this position. Vontaze Burfict was hot and cold, getting a few dominant grades, like in Week 10 - top finish, but also received low scores in other games, like his 58 points out of 100 from Week 12. The leader of the Bengals defense was still the key for the entire unit to get back to form in the second half of the season, and his 10th overall finish would have been better had he been at 100% in the early weeks, and not missed five games due to suspension and a concussion.
Vincent Rey outplayed Karlos Dansby, even though the difference between those two wasn’t big. At 13th Rey and 17th Dansby, both followed the inconsistency of the defense in 2016.
Along the line of Ogbuehi and Bodine, Rey Maualuga was the fourth-worst ranked player. The veteran linebacker is no longer a useful contributor to this team, and his playing time decreased even before Burfict came back from injury. It’s hard to see the Bengals moving on from him, but they should. Nick Vigil wasn’t ranked because of lack of snaps.
The unit was very inconsistent in the beginning of the season, with a mediocre outing against the Broncos, for example, and an outstanding performance against the Steelers in Week 2. They settled down in the second half and it looks like the Bengals cornerbacks are on the rise.
Adam Jones was the 30th-highest rated cornerback, and Kirkpatrick was the 32nd. Josh Shaw started 2016 pretty well but ended giving up playing time to Darqueze Dennard, and finished 93rd. The former first-round pick on the other hand, only topped six other players out of 133 and had the second worst score in the slot coverage category only behind Xavier Howard of the Dolphins. Maybe it’s time to try him outside?
George Iloka wasn’t as good as he was last season with Reggie Nelson alongside him, but he was still above average and a plus on almost every game, and ended up at 16th out of 50. The Boise State product had to adjust to playing with a thumper at strong safety in Shawn Williams, and he fared well. With Derron Smith in the mix as well the entire safety unit looks to be a strong one for the Bengals for the next few years.
Possibly one of the most underrated Bengals players in 2016, Williams excelled at what we already knew he was good at, and struggled a little bit at what he can’t do as well. The Georgia standout is better close to the line of scrimmage and other than Burfict, he’s the best blitzer that the Bengals have. Overall, his season was pretty strong and he finished as the 5th-best strong safety in the NFL, in B/R’s opinion.
There’s no way around it, Mike Nugent had a really rough season that led him to be cut a few weeks before the season ended. He was graded 0.2 worse than Blair Walsh, who also got axed by the Vikings, although he was also the best tackler at the position, for whatever it’s worth. What really hurts is the fact that the Bengals could have won a couple more games with a better performance from their kicker, who was the worst-ranked kicker for the year.
Kevin Huber keeps regressing and got a 27th finish out of 34, which shows his best days might be far past. The former Bearcat had the least hang time among all ranked punters and few times helped the Bengals swing momentum of the game in a positive way. The one time he really did was against the Browns, when it was hardly needed.
Overall the roster ranks look like this: