The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping for far better results in 2017 than they saw last year.
A big part of the problem in 2016 was the huge amount of turnover experienced during the offseason. The coaching staff lost every defensive position coach, and the team’s offensive coordinator, while the roster saw dramatic change, too. The 2017 offseason has also seen plenty of roster changes, but the coaching staff has remained intact. As such, certain players will need to step up more to create better results and justify the changes made.
But which players matter most to the Bengals’ success this season? Sports Illustrated is ranking the 10 most important player on every NFL team, and for the Bengals, they chose an interesting bunch of players, spanning multiple positions and age groups.
1. WR A.J. Green (40 points)
2. DT Geno Atkins (31)
3. OT Cedric Ogbuehi (28)
4. WR John Ross (25)
T-5. OT Jake Fisher (23)
T-5. LB Vontaze Burfict (23)
T-5. TE Tyler Eifert (23)
8. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (21)
9. DE Carlos Dunlap (17)
10. G Clint Boling (eight)
In parentheses is the number of votes each player received from the Sports Illustrated and Monday Morning Quarterback writers. Each writer ranked the top 10 most important players with the player they felt was the most important receiving 10 points, the second most important receiving nine points, the third most important receiving eight points, and so on.
For the most part, it is hard to argue with the players on this list. But, one major question comes to mind. Where is franchise quarterback and team leader Andy Dalton?
The Bengals’ offense runs through Dalton. Last year, despite dealing with a huge amount of change at wide receiver, injuries to Eifert and Green (two players on this list), and a severely underperforming offensive line, Dalton still completed 64.7 percent of his 563 pass attempts for 4,206 yards, 18 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions. Those aren’t bad stats considering the injuries, personnel losses and coaching changes from the season prior.
Speaking of a helpless offense, the exclusion of any running backs from this list is baffling. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard may not have looked great as the Bengals’ running backs in 2016. But, in 2017, Joe Mixon is added to the equation. If he lives up to expectations, it could be a critical development for a Bengals’ offense that failed to develop an effective running game last year. That said, Mixon did receive some recognition for the important role he will play, despite not appearing on the list itself.
Ben Baskin defends his eighth-place vote for Joe Mixon: Mixon will have to fight for playing time at first with Bernard and Hill, who is coming off an ACL tear, but Mixon will quickly prove to be the most dynamic and versatile of the trio, landing him the lion’s share of playing time. Having a sure-handed target out of the backfield will both make life easier for Andy Dalton and open up the field for A.J. Green. Mixon—despite how I feel about him personally, which is, to put it lightly, not great—will bring a dimension to the offense that the Bengals have never had.
Of course, putting Dalton or Mixon on this list would require moving one of the other important players off this list. Then again, are players like Clint Boling, Jake Fisher, or Dre Kirkpatrick really more important than Mixon and Dalton? No, I don’t believe they are.
Here’s my revised list of the 10 most important Bengals in 2017:
1. WR A.J. Green
2. DT Geno Atkins
3. QB Andy Dalton
4. OT Cedric Ogbuehi
5. LB Vontaze Burfict
6. RB Joe Mixon
7. TE Tyler Eifert
8. DE Carlos Dunlap
9. WR John Ross
10. OG Clint Boling
Players like Ross and Boling are important, although I feel like their importance was overestimated by SI. The development of Ross will be exciting and fun to watch, especially long-term. But, in 2017, he has a ceiling as the team’s No. 3 pass catcher behind Green and Eifert. Boling is important, but it is significantly more critical for Ogbuehi to develop as the team’s starting left tackle. The state of the offensive line is critical to the team’s performance in 2016, but Boling’s importance is likely based almost entirely on his leadership as the successor to Andrew Whitworth as the leader of the offensive line.
The only players on the team more important than the franchise quarterback are the team’s two superstar players - Green and Atkins. I completely agree with the placement of those two, as well as Burfict at No. 5. I also agree with Dunlap’s importance, although I feel his presence as the only (currently) reliable edge rusher on the team deserves a bit higher ranking than No. 9.
Overall, what is important for the Bengals in 2017 is to learn to play as a team, rise to the challenge in crucial moments during a game and to win more games. But, certain players are bound to make more of an impact than others.
Which 10 players do you feel are the most important to the Bengals’ 2017 success?