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5 Bengals who need to step up their game in 2017

These players need to have big seasons in 2017 as the Bengals make a push to get back to the playoffs.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

30 of the 89 players on the Cincinnati Bengals’ current roster are new to Cincinnati this season. As such, there’s a lot of talent making a push for the roster in addition to young talent added during the last few years and key veterans who have been forces in Cincinnati for years. The competition this summer will be intense as players fight their way toward the 53-man roster. The Bengals have (not so) quietly been removing underperforming starters from their roster at an increasing rate (Brandon Tate, Mike Nugent, Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko). There have been a few losses of top talent, too, such as right guard Kevin Zeitler and reserve running back Rex Burkhead. But, the Bengals no longer fear losing veterans like they used to.

That said, there are still plenty of players left on the roster who have not performed up to the standards the team will have this season. For varying reasons, the below five players need to rise to the challenge and prove they belong on the team in 2017.

Adam Jones

After putting together a stellar performance in 2015, Jones regressed in 2016. That’s not to say he wasn’t a starting-caliber cornerback; he was and still is. But, he only caught one interception, as opposed to the three he caught in 2015. Furthermore, a big part of his impact has always been his ability to return kicks, but he was a huge liability in that department last year. He fumbled the ball three times and saw a huge dip in his return average from 23.5 to 19.8 on kickoffs and 11.2 to 5.1 on punts. At 33-years-old, his time with the Bengals seems limited, and wasn’t helped by his arrest in the offseason. If he does not return to his Pro Bowl form, it could spell the end for the 13-year veteran, who can be cut without cost at the end of the 2017 season.

Brandon Thompson

Thompson spent all of 2016 recovering from a torn ACL suffered in Week 17 of the 2015 season. It would be unfair to criticize him for having no impact in 2016. But, let’s remember, in his first three seasons, he was regularly a non-factor for the team. He did start seven games in 2013, a result of Geno Atkins’ torn ACL, suffered against the Miami Dolphins. But, he only recorded 28 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a batted pass in the process. Throughout the rest of his career, he has only added 34 more combined tackles and 1.5 more sacks. Suffice it to say, the amount of competition at defensive tackle this year will require Thompson to elevate his performance if he wants to stick around. In fact, he’ll need to show his ability fast to even make the roster this season with plentiful young talent vying to take his spot.

Cody Core

Most accounts from the Bengals this offseason claim Core is one of, if not the most improved player from last year. Unfortunately, the Bengals made a clear statement on their confidence in last year’s receiving corps by drafting John Ross in the first round and Josh Malone in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. As a fringe roster player last year, there is plenty of reason for Core to look over his shoulder this year. The Bengals seem to want to keep seven receivers on the roster this year. But, Core will need to earn more touches this season to prove the Bengals are right to keep him around. 17 touches for 200 yards, his rookie stat line, won’t cut it long-term.

Jeremy Hill

If there is one player on the Bengals’ roster who obviously needs to step up his game, it’s Hill. Despite recording virtually the same number of touches every year, he has failed to break the 1,000 yard mark on the ground in each of the last two seasons. Granted, he did record 1,013 all-purpose yards in 2016, but it isn’t enough to inspire confidence from the Bengals. His rookie contract is up at the end of the season, so the Bengals moving on would make sense if he continues at his current pace.

Andre Smith

Inconsistency has always been the calling card of Smith, the Bengals’ former right tackle. There were times Smith played like one of the best right tackles in the NFL, but there were other times where penalties, allowed sacks, and an inability to create running lanes plagued his NFL life with the Bengals. Injuries were also becoming a problem for Smith, who lost out on much of his chance with the Minnesota Vikings in 2016 due to the injury bug. As a result, the Bengals were able to bring him back this offseason to fill in at the vacant right guard position. It is hard to say exactly how Smith will fare in his new role, but he will need to perform better at his new position than he did at right tackle if he wants any chance of earning another stay in Cincinnati.