With the departure of 11-year veteran Domata Peko to the Denver Broncos, the Bengals lost one of their most prominent and positive-minded leaders on the defense. From a statistical standpoint, his production with the team tended to be average at best, and he experienced a sharp decrease in his final season with the team. But, his value as a leader on the defense should not be underestimated. Now, the Bengals need to find a way to replace his presence in the locker room with one of the team’s key defensive veterans. For 2017, the candidates to fill his role appear to be:
The most obvious candidate to replace the Bengals’ departed 11-year veteran is another 11-year veteran like Jones. He has only been with the team since 2010, but he has been in the league since 2005, when he was drafted by the Titans in the first round. In most cases, being around since 2005 would make a player a 12-year NFL veteran, but he spent 2009 out of football after an ugly fallout with the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Although Jones has the most football experience of anyone else on the roster, he is also notoriously hot-headed, volatile, and has a history of on- and off-the-field problems. The Bengals likely want someone with a bit more self-discipline taking over the leadership role. That's not to mention that Jones could be suspended by the NFL in 2017 for his Januart arrest.
Another player who has a tendency to struggle with self-restraint is Burfict. But, like Jones, he also has a tendency to be very outspoken, especially in the locker room. For much of his career, he has been known as the emotional leader of the Bengals’ defense, knowing exactly when and how to get those around him to elevate their play. He's also said to be one of the smartest football players on the roater. Unfortunately, until he can prove that he can consistently reign-in his reckless behavior on the field, he doesn’t have the ability to lead by example, which is just as important if not more important than leading vocally.
If there is one Bengals player who has truly embodied the ideals of self-restraint and turning their life around, it’s Dunlap. The Bengals’ second round pick in 2010 was seen as a first round talent, but he demonstrated poor character and work ethic, highlighted by a DUI arrest that kept him from playing in the SEC Championship while in college.
However, since coming to Cincinnati, Dunlap has been a model member of the community, a star football player, and, overall, a well-rounded person. If there is one player on the team who can inspire young guys struggling with their own obstacles, it’s Dunlap. Dunlap has always seemed to keep quiet as a member of the Bengals, but, 2017 could be his year to break out of his shell and become a leader on the Bengals defense.
Surprisingly, the most qualified candidate for filling Peko’s leadership role is a player who might be in his last year with the Bengals. He is currently the most senior member of the Bengals’ defense who was both drafted by the team and has spent his entire career with the team. Pat Sims was drafted a year before Maualuga, but he spent two seasons in Oakland, so he only has seven years of experience with the Bengals.
Like Dunlap, Maualuga embodies a much more positive influence than loose cannons like Jones and Burfict. But, unlike Dunlap, he is much more naturally vocal, having consistently been one of the more outspoken members of the defense throughout his tenure with the Bengals. Plenty of Bengals fans are wondering how much longer Maualuga has left with the team if he does not start playing better, more consistently. But, his value to the team is increased exponentially when you realize that he is one of the only remaining positive, outspoken leaders left on the defense. If Maualuga is on the 2017 roster, it could have a lot to do with the leadership and experience he brings to the team.
Who do you think needs to step up as a leader on the Bengals’ defense with Peko moving on?