clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals depth chart: Pre-free agency projections on defense

We take a stab at projecting the Bengals’ defensive depth chart if the 2017 season began today.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We're still a ways away from knowing exactly what the 2017 Bengals will look like.

Between the impending free agents and the upcoming NFL Draft, the roster could look dramatically different, or at a minimum, somewhat different, by the time Week 1 rolls around in September.

However, there are still plenty of guys from last year's team set to return, enough that it's easy to do an early projection of what the defensive depth chart would look like if a game were played today. Here's a look at what the Bengals’ defensive depth chart would probably look like with impending free agents omitted for the time being. (Starters are in bold.)


Left Defensive End:

  1. Carlos Dunlap
  2. Marcus Hardison
  3. Ryan Brown

Right Defensive End:

  1. Michael Johnson
  2. Will Clarke
  3. Marcus Hardison

Defensive end is dangerously thin right now with Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry hitting free agency. That’s why I’m putting Marcus Hardison here as a backup defensive end, even though it looks like defensive tackle is his real position for the long-term.

There’s no question Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are the starters as of now heading into next season, but this position badly needs more depth added in free agency and/or the NFL Draft.

Defensive Tackle:

  1. Geno Atkins
  2. Brandon Thompson
  3. Marcus Hardison
  4. DeShawn Williams

Nose Tackle:

  1. Pat Sims
  2. Andrew Billings
  3. David Dean

Defensive tackle is a little harder to project if Domata Peko is re-signed. Andrew Billings is the guy everyone wants to take over the nose spot next to Geno Atkins if Peko leaves, and even if he stays, but don’t rule out Pat Sims winning that spot. This staff does after all favor veterans over inexperienced guys like Billings, even if they are better.

Inside Linebackers:

  1. Rey Maualuga
  2. Nick Vigil

Strongside Linebackers:

  1. Nick Vigil
  2. P.J. Dawson
  3. Bryson Albright

Weakside Linebackers:

  1. Vontaze Burfict
  2. Vincent Rey
  3. Marquis Flowers

I think Nick Vigil actually has the slight edge at being the starting middle backer next season, but until Rey Maualuga is finally gone, I give the enigmatic veteran the nod. With Karlos Dansby hitting free agency, Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey take the other two spots, while P.J. Dawson, Bryson Albright and Marquis Flowers battle it out for those backup spots. Trevor Roach would have been part of that group if not for his Friday retirement.

Left Cornerback:

  1. Darqueze Dennard
  2. William Jackson III
  3. KeiVarae Russell

Right Cornerback:

  1. Adam Jones
  2. Josh Shaw
  3. Tony McRae

The Bengals are going to be thin at cornerback if Dre Kirkpatrick isn’t brought back and/or Adam Jones is cut. That said, I’m confident one of those two will be back manning a starting spot next season.

Then it’s a battle between William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard for the other boundary spot, while Josh Shaw takes over in the slot.

Free Safety:

  1. George Iloka
  2. Derron Smith

Strong Safety:

  1. Shawn Williams
  2. Clayton Fejedelem

The Bengals have the exact same safety group next season as they had for all of 2016. George Iloka and Shawn Williams retain their starting spots, while Clayton Fejedelem and Derron Smith fight for backup snaps.

In all, the Bengals would have most of their defense back from last season, but the losses of Dansby and Kirkpatrick could lead to this unit taking a small step back if no other guys are added this offseason. But of course, more guys will be added this offseason. That said, guys like Vigil, Jackson, Dennard and Shaw are more than capable of stepping up and helping offset those losses, so it’s possible the unit we see above could actually be better in 2017 than what we saw last season.