As the Cincinnati Bengals try to bounce back from a disappointing 6-9-1 season, defensive tackle Andrew Billings is in the midst of coming back from a less than desirable year as well. Billings was named the 2015 Big-12 Defensive Player of the Year before he declared for the 2016 NFL Draft. He received his fair share of first-round buzz before falling to the fourth-round. He then tore his meniscus a month before the regular season, forcing him to the sidelines for his whole rookie season. Now, Billings is 100 percent healthy and looking to make up for lost time. He’s set to be a crucial piece in the Bengals’ revamped defensive front, though he has a lot to prove first.
Position: Defensive tackle
Hometown: Waco, Texas
Experience: Second year
Billings is entering the second year of his four year rookie contract. In 2017 he will earn a base salary of $465,000 and will count for $598,961 against the cap, per Spotrac. He is set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2019 season, and is eligible for an extension after the 2018 season.
Before he was proclaimed as one of the better interior lineman in the draft last year, and even before he destroyed Big-12 offensive lines for three years at Baylor, Billings was always an imposing figure; particularly as a power-lifter. At Waco high school, he broke a 22 year Texas state record by power lifting 2010 pounds (805 from squat, 500 from bench, 705 from deadlift). That weight room strength combined with his stout build translated predictably well on the football field. He was the 12th ranked defensive tackle by Rivals.com, Scout.com, and 247Sports.com for the 2013 class, and chose to attend nearby Baylor University.
If size was Billings’s knock as an incoming NFL prospect, production was a definite positive. In terms of market share production, Billings was right up there with some of the very best interior pass rushers in the NFL in recent memory. Even better than Geno Atkins in this case:
I don't see the upside in having Billings hovering around 330 when it takes away his athleticism. Here's his MS production in college at 311 pic.twitter.com/9BBkyyDG3J— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) May 15, 2017
As an athlete, Billings tested very similarly to Pittsburgh’s starting second year nose tackle Javon Hargrave:
Billings tested at 311 pounds and when he improved his speed and flexibility numbers at his pro day, he is similar to Javon Hargrave: pic.twitter.com/5gYY5dWhW5— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) May 15, 2017
It’s safe to assume Billings won’t be as athletic or productive playing with an extra 15 pounds than he played and tested at, but the talent and raw ability is there in spades.
Billings fell to the Bengals fourth-round selection and was the latest “steal” of the draft for them in that particular round. With Domata Peko still on the roster, Billings was supposed to supplement him in base packages and eventually start to steal more and more snaps from him as the season wore on. In theory, that was meant to be to further groom him to start this season. That never happened as Billings went down with his injury before he could even play a preseason game. It’s pretty telling how confident the team is in his ability by letting Peko walk and not bringing in a veteran nose tackle to start over him, despite the year he lost. But, Billings is used to being one of the very best players on the field. Now, with the expectations as high as ever, he’s going to have every chance to reward the Bengals’ faith.
Only a sith deals in absolutes, but Billings is a solid lock for the roster. This offseason, he’s being prepared to start next to Atkins in Week 1 in his first career game. Billings will be the least experienced and by far the youngest (he turned 21 in March) of the 22 opening day starters for the Bengals (that’s assuming 20-year-old Joe Mixon doesn’t start at running back). But if all goes well and he makes it through the offseason 100 percent healthy, he’s going to start for his team for the first time in two years.
Odds: 100 percent