When the Bengals take the field in 2017, they will be relying on the contributions of their top veteran players to successfully lead a roster with many new pieces. The continued durability of these key players will be critical to the Bengals’ success going forward. The absence of any could seriously jeopardize the morale and development of much of the rest of the team. But, whose absence would be felt the most? Which players are simply irreplaceable when it comes to the 2017 roster?
Arguably the single most talented player on the Bengals, Green gives the Bengals’ offense a certain element that only a few other players in the entire NFL can replicate. He is an elite wide receiver who forces opposing teams to alter their game plans around keeping him quiet. Furthermore, as the assumed leader of a very young, developing wide receiver corps, he’s expected to help develop and mentor players like John Ross, Josh Malone, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson.
It’s not that Brandon LaFell is a bad receiver, but would you be comfortable with him being the only veteran presence in the receiving corps? I wouldn’t.
We all remember what happened at the end of the 2015 season. The Bengals were on fire throughout most of the season, on track, by Week 13, to secure the franchise’s first playoff bye since 1988. Unfortunately, that week, Dalton broke his thumb and was lost for the remainder of the season. Backup quarterback AJ McCarron performed admirably through the rest of the season, recording 79 completions on 119 attempts for 854 yards and six touchdowns. But, the team just wasn’t the same without Dalton and finished 2-2 in the final four games. The Bengals still made the playoffs, but a McCarron-led offense only managed to put up 16 points in the Wild Card round against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2016, Dalton came roaring back with his second 4,000+ yard season of his career, despite losing half of his receiving corps in the offseason. As a team, the Bengals didn’t see similarly impressive results in 2016. But, imagine how much worse they would have been without Dalton’s leadership and performance.
2016 was an interesting year for Burfict. In only 11 games, he recorded 73 tackles, two sacks, eight passes defended, a forced fumble, and two interceptions for 54 yards. When he returned from suspension after Week 3, he brought back a missing element to the Bengals’ defense. Yes, his reckless on-field behavior can get him into trouble and, yes, it hurts the Bengals when he cannot play as a result of his actions. But, that shows just how irreplaceable of a player he is. When he is not on the field, the Bengals’ defense looks completely different. He’s a vocal leader on defense and his football IQ is a big asset to the defense whenever he’s on the field.
Speaking of players whose absence cause major changes to the defensive identity, absolutely no one wants to lose Atkins. The only player on the team with an argument to contend with Green as the most talented player on the roster, Atkins is regularly mentioned among the best players in the NFL at his position. Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams is his only legitimate competition for the title.
In 2016, no defensive tackle had more sacks than Atkins (9.0). He has been elected to the Pro Bowl every season of his career except his rookie season (2010), and the season in which he spent nearly half of the games on Injured Reserve (2013). After losing Domata Peko this offseason, Atkins stands alone as a reliable veteran starter at defensive tackle for the Bengals.
Dunlap is part of a defensive end tandem that, at one time, was considered one of the best in the NFL. Before earning a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014, Michael Johnson averaged 4.6 sacks, 5.2 pass deflections, and 26.8 tackles per year. He also recorded three interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries in that time. Unfortunately, since returning to the Bengals in 2015, he has averaged 4.25 sacks per year, 2.5 pass deflections, and 30.5 tackles. He has recovered one fumble, but has not recorded an interception. Clearly, the Bengals need an upgrade over Johnson at the defensive end position.
Luckily the team has an anchor at the position in Dunlap, who recorded an impressive eight sacks, 30 tackles, 15 pass deflections, and three forced fumbles in 2016. He’s made the Pro Bowl for the last two years while being among the league’s best pass rushers. Without him holding down the left edge, the Bengals would have virtually no outside presence on the defense, putting an unreasonable amount of pressure on Atkins to make something happen in the trenches.
What do you think, Bengals fans? Which player on the team is the most irreplaceable?
Who is the Bengals’ most irreplaceable player in 2017?
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