With the draft over, there are still a lot of questions about the Cincinnati Bengals that need to be answered. If the Bengals are truly going to be a threat to the best teams in the NFL, they need several of these questions to be answered in their favor. Football includes a bit of luck; every year there are make or break factors that help decide the outcome of the season.
The Bengals have been one of the healthiest teams in the NFL for the past few years (though, many of the injuries the team has sustained have been to key players). Hopefully the healthy string of seasons continues, inclusive of the team’s star players. If the Bengals can stay healthy for 2017 and a few key players step up, the team could quickly return to Super Bowl contention. The Atlanta Falcons missed the playoffs following the 2015 season and the next year they were in the Super Bowl.
A few things must go the Bengals way for the team to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the playoffs. Here are five of the biggest questions remaining to be answered, all of which could make or break the season.
Question 1: Will young offensive tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi improve in year 3?
This is easily one of the most important factors for the 2017 season. Having good blocking on the edges would be a huge help to the Bengals and Andy Dalton. If the offensive line plays as poorly as it did last season, it would be an uphill battle for the Bengals to be successful in 2017. Fisher and Ogbuehi are going to be key to the offensive line’s success and they both need to step up big in 2017.
Question 2: Will Tyler Eifert and John Ross stay healthy?
Bengals fans are very familiar with seeing Tyler Eifert’s name on injury reports. That is very unfortunate due to how talented of a player he is when healthy and on the field. If he and John Ross are able to stay healthy for the whole season it would be a big help to the Bengals offense across the board and help the team to succeed. Without either, the offense will likely look much like it did last season; and that wasn’t great.
Question 3: Will Darqueze Dennard lock down the slot and prove his worth?
Dennard is a very important factor to the Bengals not only in 2017 but also beyond. I fully expect him to be granted every opportunity to start in the slot in 2017 as the Bengals want to see if he is worth the $8 million dollar price tag currently placed on him for the 2018 season. If he performs poorly, the Bengals have plenty invested in the cornerback position and can move on to find a solution that works.
Question 4: Will the Bengals 2016 draft picks make an impact?
Bengals fans were very excited when the team selected William Jackson III in Round 1 and Andrew Billings in Round 4 of the 2016 draft. However, both of them went down with injuries prior to even playing in the preseason. With Boyd already starting in the slot and third round pick Nick Vigil expected to get a lot more snaps at linebacker this season, the 2016 draft class could have a big impact this year depending on how much playing time Jackson and Billings receive. Billings is currently slated as the team’s starter at nose tackle. This draft class has the potential to become one of the most impactful on the team in the very near future.
Question 5: Will the rookies actually play in their first year?
Marvin Lewis often has a bit of an aversion to playing rookies. So it is a fair question to ask how much the rookies will play this coming season. The Bengals have five players who I believe could help the team immediately in Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson and Jake Elliott. Other than Elliott, I worry the others won’t be given enough of a chance to help the team in 2017. Ross should be starting and rotating with Lafell. Mixon should be the starting running back in 2017, considering how Hill has played for the last two years. Willis and Lawson should both be part of a heavy rotation on the defensive line, and Elliott will probably be given every opportunity to beat out Randy Bullock and Jonathan Brown, and most likely will. Hopefully, that’s because he outperforms the other two kickers two and does very well in 2017.
What are your top remaining questions for the Bengals?