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Best and worst things going for Bengals in 2017

The Bengals have made some changes for better and worse this offseason. Which are the most important to the team’s success in 2017?

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals made many changes this offseason and the hope is the majority of those changes will positively impact the roster in both the short and long-term. For starters, the Bengals added 11 draft picks, many of whom offer great talent and ability to make an immediate impact.

However, there were some questionable moves the Bengals are going to have a hard time maneuvering when the season begins. The Bengals had multiple opportunities to remedy some of the issues the team is facing, but not every problem has been solved. There are many different aspects to the Bengals in 2017 and a lot will change between now and Week of the season. From where we stand now, heading into the summer, here’s a look at the best and worst parts of the roster.

Best: offensive firepower

In 2016, the Bengals’ offense ranked 13th in the NFL in total yards per game (356.9), although they ranked 24th in points per game (20.3). Essentially, the Bengals were pretty good when it came to driving the ball down the field, but had a lot of trouble capitalizing when in position to score. Some of that can be attributed to the injuries suffered by A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. But even with those injuries in mind, the lack of red zone offense was a serious issue for the Bengals and rookie offensive coordinator Ken Zampese.

For that reason, the Bengals focused on bringing in plenty of new offensive weapons. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the team picked up receivers John Ross and Josh Malone as well as running back Joe Mixon. Ross and Malone are both speedy threats who should be invaluable to Dalton’s passing game, while Mixon will look to revitalize a running back position that has fell flat and lacked vision.

The Bengals typically stock the roster with multiple offensive weapons and this year is no different. There is simply no excuse for the Bengals to not dominate offensively, assuming the unit remains healthy. The Bengals put a lot of eggs into the offensive basket and the goal will be to outscore opponents on a weekly basis. If the rookies develops as expected and the veterans continue playing at the level they have, there is no reason the Bengals can’t have a bounce-back season in 2017. Well, maybe there is one reason...

Worst: offensive line

The one catch for the Bengals’ offense containing so many weapons is that it won’t matter if Dalton has no time to throw the ball, or if defenders are in the backfield before running lanes materialize. We all know the Bengals’ offensive line struggled mightily in 2016, giving up the seventh most sacks in the NFL (41) and supporting a running game averaging the league’s 20th best yards per rushing attempt (4.0).

This offseason the Bengals restructured the offensive line. The problem is, the team accomplished that by watching its best two offensive linemen walk in free agency. Many expected the Bengals to draft offensive linemen early and often in the draft. But, the team only selected one offensive lineman and it came in the fifth round as the team selected J.J. Dielman out of Utah. He’s expected to need some time to develop, much like 2016 fifth round pick Christian Westerman who didn’t see the field at all during his rookie year.

Three-time Pro Bowler and beloved locker room leader Andrew Whitworth is now in Los Angeles with the Rams while up-and-coming right guard Kevin Zeitler joined the Cleveland Browns. This season, the offensive line will have a new look as Cedric Ogbuehi moves to left tackle, Jake Fisher takes on the right tackle role and Andre Smith returns at a new position, right guard. Meanwhile, Clint Boling will maintain his job at left guard and Russell Bodine is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal at center.

How the Bengals expect to improve the offensive line with that strategy is absolutely questionable. Yes, Ogbuehi is more naturally suited to play left tackle, so allowing him time to develop at that spot makes sense. Yes, the Bengals have been preparing for a youth movement along the offensive line for quite some time. But, it seems like a reckless strategy to let your best two lineman walk without proven replacements waiting in the wings. Zeitler was by no means old; the Bengals just didn’t want to pay him what he was worth because the team doesn’t place significant value on the guard position. And while Whitworth is aging, his play has yet to slow down. A great player like Whitworth, who devoted so much of his career to bettering this franchise, deserved better than his unceremonious departure.

How do the Bengals expect to remedy their issues along the offensive line? The additions of Ross and Mixon won’t mean a thing if Dalton doesn’t have time to get them the ball. Though, the plan does seem to be creating a more balanced offense where the ball can be spread out and defenses are continually kept on their toes. Dalton is also working on his release and getting the ball out of his hands more quickly. And, this offseason is the first in which Ogbuehi will be healthy after entering the NFL while recovering from a torn ACL and then suffering multiple injuries during the offseason and preseason in his sophomore campaign. The hope is that a healthy offseason will greatly aid the third year tackle as he moves to Dalton’s blind side. As for Fisher, this offseason is his first with a starting job under wraps. He’s never been privy to receiving starter snaps in practice (save for the final weeks of the 2016 season), and the added experience should help him excel and improve from his limited time on the field in 2016.

With all that said, if the Bengals can figure out solutions to the team’s weakest links, 2017 could be a very exciting year for Cincinnati football.