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Bengals positional comparison from 2016 to 2017: defensive tackle

With Domata Peko gone, who will fill the void next to Geno Atkins?

NFL: Preseason-New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive tackle position has been in a strange place for a few years. Geno Atkins has been a superstar in the middle of the line, but the Bengals have seen a lot of inconsistency from the rest of the unit. In 2017, there is an open starting spot next to Atkins and though there’s a frontrunner, Andrew Billings, the battle should be a fun one to watch.

With that said, how does the 2016 unit compare to what we’re expecting to see in 2017? Let’s take a look at the changes that have transpired:

2016 roster

Geno Atkins

Atkins contributed nine sacks to the Bengals in 2016, which was more than any other defensive tackle in the NFL. Only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams even came close to that number with eight. Atkins received his fifth career Pro Bowl berth for his efforts, clearly re-establishing why the Bengals love him. He was also rated by his peers as the 68th best player in the NFL. Suffice it to say, he is expected to continue to play at a high level in 2017 and, at 29-years-old, for a long time to come.

Status: Still on the team.

Domata Peko

Unlike Atkins, Peko’s presence on the Bengals was regularly criticized before the team finally decided to watch him walk in free agency this offseason. Peko was an outspoken leader in the locker room, although he struggled to produce at a sufficient level on the field. In a lot of ways, he was essentially Atkins’ polar opposite. In 2016, he only recorded 37 combined tackles, a fumble recovery, and three pass deflections. He failed to contribute on even one sack the entire season. The Bengals will miss his presence as a leader, but they desperately needed to upgrade the starting defensive tackle position.

Status: On the Denver Broncos.

Pat Sims

A Bengal for much of his career, Sims briefly spent time with the Oakland Raiders from 2013-2014. However, the Bengals brought him back in 2015 and he has managed to stick on the roster in both of the last two seasons. In 2016, he had his best season in years with 37 combined tackles and 1.5 sacks. That level of contribution is very similar to Peko’s, except Sims didn’t start a single game last year. Sims will be battling with young guys this summer in the hopes of keeping his backup role, or maybe even earning a starting nod if the young players don’t impress.

Status: Still on the team.

Brandon Thompson

Thompson spent the entire 2016 season on Injured Reserve, recovering from a torn ACL suffered in Week 17 of the 2015 season. The Bengals renewed his contract for a year last offseason, but it was structured so that if he missed the entire 2016 season the deal would roll over for 2017. Thompson started seven games in 2013 but only recording 28 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a pass deflection in the process that season. He will have a chance to prove himself worthy of more time with the Bengals in 2017, but he will need to step his game up.

Status: Still on the team.

Andrew Billings

The Bengals arguably received the biggest steal in the 2016 NFL Draft when they selected Billings with the 122nd overall pick. He was originally projected as a first or second round pick, but questions about his health and endurance caused him to fall. He didn’t contribute in 2016 because he tore his meniscus in training camp, but you can hardly hold that against the young player. The expectation is for Billings to finally give Atkins that high-end complement he has needed for his entire career. If all goes well this training camp and preseason he will be starting in 2017, and hopefully for the long-term.

Status: Still on the team.

Marcus Hardison

The career trajectory of Hardison has been a disappointing one to follow. The Bengals originally made him a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft as a defensive end/tackle hybrid. The problem is, he has yet to be active for a single game after back-to-back preseason injuries. The Bengals’ coaching staff seems to like him well enough, but injuries have derailed his development. 2017 will be crucial to his long-term success and career trajectory. If he does not see the field this year, it is unlikely he will be ready to earn an extension after 2018, the final year of his rookie contract.

Status: Still on the team.

DeShawn Williams

As an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2015, few thought Williams would succeed at the NFL level. The Bengals signed him as a college free agent and he consistently found a way to turn heads in the offseason. But, the Bengals relegated him to the practice squad at the end of the preseason. He finally found his way onto the Bengals’ active roster in 2016, although he was only active for four games and only recorded two tackles and half a sack in the process. He seems to have the right amount of determination and respect from the coaching staff to make it with the team, but there is no arguing he is still considered a fringe roster player and could easily be a victim of mandatory cuts this offseason.

Status: Still on the team.

2017 changes

Peko signs with Denver Broncos

Despite starting for the Bengals for years, Peko rarely contributed at a high level on the field. In 2015, he did manage to record an impressive five sacks, but he also recorded the least combined tackles of his career (35) in a full 16 game season. In 2016 his play regressed and the Bengals made the decision to not re-sign him. He ended up signing with the Broncos, who are now led by former Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

Ryan Glasgow drafted in Round 4

Given Peko’s departure, defensive tackle seemed like a significant need in the 2017 offseason. But, the Bengals only brought one player in via the draft and none in free agency. That player was Ryan Glasgow, out of Michigan who worked his way up from a walk-on to a consistent starter with the Wolverines. Although not as coveted in the draft as his brother, Graham Glasgow (a guard who was selected by the Lions in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft), his determination, balance, and tackling power were enough to convince the Bengals to select him a round earlier than he was expected to go. However, he will need to bulk up and work on his technique if he wants to see playing time in 2017.

Undrafted players

Last year, the Bengals brought in David Dean from Virginia, who performed well in the preseason and earned a practice squad spot in the process. In 2017, the Bengals signed Josh Tupou of Colorado to add to the undrafted pool. It would be a surprise to see either player earn a legitimate shot at the final roster, given the number of players competing at the position with more experience and tape. But, Dean was a notable practice squad addition last year and both have good practice squad odds this year.