With the NFL Scouting Combine here and the start of free agency just days away, it’s time to supply our final look at the Bengals’ top team needs heading into the start of free agency.
We gathered our staff to share their opinions on where the Bengals stand and the position groups that need the most improving.
The top need going into the draft and free agency is going to be at defensive end. Outside of Carlos Dunlap there's no real threat on the exterior. The Bengals also need more speed at linebacker, and I don't think the team's starting right guard for 2017 is currently on the roster. I don't foresee the Bengals filling any of those needs in free agency though, so they're going to need a good draft this year.
Top needs prioritized: Defensive end, offensive guard, linebacker, offensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, quarterback
The Bengals need speed, period. They need a true deep threat to pair with A.J. Green to stretch opposing defenses vertically. They need a speed rusher to replace Michael Johnson and the other defensive ends who haven't panned out. They need speed at linebacker, but they don't have to add anybody, just play Nick Vigil more.
They also need to keep their young good players like Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler. The offensive line was worse in 2016 than it had been of late and the loss of Zeitler would only make it worse. Pay him and the team would be settled inside with a top five talent at the position in the NFL for the next few years. Kirkpatrick may not be worth the money he will command, but he can play and you'd get his prime rather than his decline.
Andrew Whitworth should stay just because he is a leader and still one of the best left tackles in the NFL. Cedric Ogbuehi isn't ready to step in and with the Bengals contending, there's no time for experiments.
Elsewhere, the Bengals should try to open the window and let some fresh air in; that means cutting expensive, ineffective veterans who are taking away snaps from recent draft picks. It is tough to believe this will happen, but I think that should be an important point of emphasis for the team this offseason.
Speed, speed and more speed. The team lacks any athleticism at defensive end besides Dunlap, at wide receiver besides Green, and at linebacker in general. Finding a center to take over or at the very least compete with Russell Bodine and finding a running back to push or diminish Jeremy Hill's role (when Rex Burkhead very possibly leaves) are also imperative.
Top needs prioritized: Speed at edge rusher, speed at wide receiver, center, running back, speed at linebacker
The Bengals desperately need some help along their front seven. I would say defensive end is the top priority due to Michael Johnson's continuing futility, but inside linebacker is a close second. There’s no more futile play than what comes from Rey Maualuga though, and Karlos Dansby is a free agent. Next, the Bengals need an offensive tackle, although not as desperately because Fisher could still develop and if Whitworth is re-signed it becomes less of an immediate need. Fourth, the team could use another cornerback. Not for lack of talent, because the team features plenty of cornerbacks, but just to add competition to the group. Fifth, an offensive guard for depth purposes should be found in the draft. I like Westerman, but he's the only backup and if Zeitler leaves as expected, this position needs to have a serious battle for the starting right guard role in 2017.
Top needs prioritized: Defensive end, inside linebacker, offensive tackle, cornerback, offensive guard.
The biggest NEEDS would have to be a center and a right defensive end who can rush the quarterback.
The Bengals’ running game gets blown up too frequently because Bodine is getting shoved in the backfield, and Dalton is pressured too frequently up the middle. Fixing the center position could go a long way to helping Hill look less pedestrian and it would bring life to the passing game. Adding another wide receiver or running back won't address this issue and really won't fix much.
The A-gap blitzes didn't seem to accomplish much last year, aside from opening areas for Andy Dalton to throw the ball. So getting a pass rush from the front four would be desirable. Geno Atkins and Dunlap are good at getting pressure, but Domata Peko and Johnson are not. Getting a third defender who can get a little pressure would go a long way to helping the Bengals’ defense.
I see the need for a linebacker to be a bit less severe than some other fans. Nick Vigil looks to be the future on the inside and I feel confident the team will re-sign Vontaze Burfict before he hits free agency in 2018. But, if you can upgrade a position, you might as well. If the Bengals feel the best player available to them in an early round of the draft is a linebacker, I wouldn’t object to the added talent and depth on the roster. It might just force the team to cut Rey Maualuga.
Defensive end is a serious need with Michael Johnson performing no better (and maybe worse) than a backup player. If Zeitler leaves in free agency (as expected) guard will also be a need to add competition for the opening starter role at right guard. As has been repeated, a speedy wide receiver who can stretch the field would also be a nice addition. I’m surprised no one added kicker to their list, as I see kicker as a need as well. The Bengals have four compensatory picks, and why not use one on a kicker. Adding a center to compete with Bodine should be something the Bengals also look to do... Unless the team signs a free agent center like Nick Mangold. But either way, Bodine is only under contract through 2017 and his replacement will likely be a draft pick. (This is assuming the Bengals aren’t foolish enough to re-sign him.)
Top needs prioritized: Defensive end, offensive guard, linebacker, center, kicker, wide receiver.
How would you order the Bengals’ top needs heading into free agency?