In an effort to remedy their personnel losses in free agency during the past two seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals have decided to get younger and faster at a number of positions. With their 18 draft picks during the past two seasons, a number of long-tenured veterans might be on the hot seat in The Queen City.
However, be it by Marvin Lewis’ preference to rely on trusted veterans, or disappointments in previous NFL Draft classes, the statuses of long-tenured players are in questions with the new influx of talent. The rookies in recent classes could very well run certain players out of town, but there are others who can continue to provide high dividends in the midst of transition.
Veterans to who could still push youngsters out of the door:
Pat Sims, Defensive Lineman: There is a contingent of Bengals fans who continually want to see Sims shown the door. However, as he continuously makes the team, he quietly continues to be a rotational player who makes big plays—often in the division.
Sims knows the system and might have the inside track as a backup player in a rotational role in 2017. He has big competition with Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams, but the team didn’t invest a pick in the middle of the defense until the fourth round in Ryan Glasgow. Stopping the run is crucial in the AFC North and Sims has consistently proven to do just that.
Marcus Hardison, Defensive Lineman: If there’s a trait the Bengals like in their players up front, it’s versatility. In a 3-4 type of defense at Arizona State in 2014, Hardison had 10 sacks as a defensive end with the Sun Devils. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed his career with the Bengals in his transition to the inside, but the skill set is there.
Even though the Bengals are breeding the much-needed competition aspect to their roster, keeping players who have versatility remains a key aspect. The team might inclined to cut ties with a guy that can’t get on the field, but the upside here might be too high to give up on right now. It also helps his cause that Domata Peko has moved on to the Denver Broncos.
DeShawn Williams, Defensive Tackle: It’s hard to make a significant case for undrafted free agents, but Williams has caught the Bengals’ attention since 2015. After a notable performance in the NFLPA Bowl practices and subsequent performance in the game itself, Cincinnati bounced on the former Clemson Tiger.
Though he’s had a tough road with the Bengals, he’s been a guy they have highly-valued. He’s more in the mold of what Geno Atkins does, but in an effort in competing with this year’s notable fourth round selection, Ryan Glasgow, Williams might have the coaches’ hearts.
Also, incase you’re wondering, the Bengals have had ridiculous success with mid-round defensive linemen. The Bengals undoubtedly hope Glasgow is the next in the productive lineage in their mid-round defensive lineman selections that include Peko, Atkins, Sims, and hopefully, Billings. Even so, their respect level for Williams is apparent.
Trey Hopkins, Offensive Guard: There are guys who just won’t go away, whether or not you want them to or not. Hopkins has been a guy who has bounced on and off of the Bengals’ roster since 2014. He has flashed starter abilities, but hasn’t shown enough to be a suitable backup in recent years.
With Kevin Zeitler leaving and Clint Boling still rehabbing an injury, guys like Hopkins will get significant snaps in camp and likely in the preseason. Cincinnati has drafted back-to-back fifth-round picks at guard with the likes of Christian Westerman and J.J. Dielman in the past two years, but Hopkins has the skills to be a spot NFL starter.
Bene Benwikere, Cornerback: In 2015, Benwikere was a highly-valuable corner in the Panthers’ NFC Championship squad, but when Josh Norman left in free agency last year, he struggled as their No. 1 corner in 2016. With the Bengals investing three first round picks at cornerback since 2012 (Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III), there are limited spots for a crowded and talented position group.
Though the team brought in KeiVarae Russell, a 2016 third round pick from the Chiefs off of waivers, Cincinnati didn’t draft a true corner in this year’s draft. Additionally, Adam Jones is working through an ongoing legal issue, and Benwikere is a low-risk/high-reward player, who has played in another aggressive defense with Carolina.
Cedric Peerman, Running Back/Special Teams: To the delight of some and the chagrin of others, the Bengals took Joe Mixon in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. As it currently stands, Mixon appears to, at a bare minimum, taking the roster spot of the recently-departed Rex Burkhead. Additionally, the Bengals drafted Brandon Wilson, who, by most accounts is a defensive back, but has abilities to line up in the backfield of an offense and play special teams.
Even though Peerman missed significant time in 2016 because of a broken forearm, he’s a former special teams Pro Bowler and has emergency running back abilities. Aside from that, Peerman is an incredible locker room presence with his stance as a team chaplain.