When the Cincinnati Bengals snagged Andrew Billings in the fourth round in the 2016 NFL Draft, almost everyone viewed it as a major steal. Sure, some last-minute rumblings of his inability of being a three-down player surfaced, but this was a guy who was often mocked to Cincinnati in the late first round.
Throughout minicamps and the early portion of training camp last year, Billings wowed coaches with that mammoth strength that was made of legends while he was at Baylor. Even though Domata Peko looked to be the entrenched starter opposite Geno Atkins, Billings was expected to be a young guy who would rotate in often. Unfortunately, it all came screeching to a halt in early August, as he tore his meniscus, which ended his season before it really began.
As we inch toward training camp, it seems Billings could be a breakout player for the Bengals this year, which was a discussion we started on The Orange and Black Insider podcast this week. Billings is the first in our list of potential breakout players for the Bengals in 2017 and there are many reasons why...
Why he makes the list:
The size and strength: Billings was not only productive in college, but was a guy who continuously set records in various weightlifting exercises. That strength will come in handy against some tough divisional offensive lines—both to make plays himself and by freeing up others to do so.
At 325 pounds, he’s one of the heftier linemen the Bengals employ. Between his weight and strength he’ll be a tough guy to move and could be a major factor in possibly getting the Bengals’ defense back to elite status.
No more Peko: The Bengals were comfortable letting Peko walk in free agency, while allowing some of the younger, promising guys develop. Based on last season and what Billings brings to the table, in terms of a skill set, it could be an immediate improvement on defense.
Though there are trusted veterans in the mix like Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson, as well as the enigmatic group of Marcus Hardison, David Dean, DeShawn Williams, Ryan Glasgow and Josh Tupou grinding for playing time, it seems like the early-down job is Billings’ to lose. And, with the Bengals struggling to defend the run early last year, we might see a boost with big No. 75 in there next to Atkins.
Stopping the run in the tough AFC North: Cincinnati’s defense uncharacteristically allowed 100-plus rushing yards to opponents in seven of the first 10 games of 2016. Two of those seven 100-yard rushing performances came at the hands of Pittsburgh and Cleveland, respectively, and not surprisingly, Cincinnati went an overall 2-4-1 in those seven contests.
Even though Cleveland is still far from being a great team, they employ a line with Joe Thomas, Kevin Zeitler and other young promising players. Pittsburgh’s front always seems to pave lanes for Le’Veon Bell and Baltimore’s scheme is always a hassle to deal with annually. Billings could step in and help make life miserable for those offenses on third down by stopping the run early in the opposition’s series.
The surrounding talent: The Bengals employ what should be one of the biggest and strongest defensive fronts in the league. Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are massive ends, while the shorter Atkins has strength that is sneaky big for his size.
Throw in Billings and his ability to push offensive linemen and all kinds of Cincinnati defenders should benefit. Oh, and an often-used criticism over the years was the Bengals not having the quicker rushers to complement these guys. Well, the team used two mid-round picks on Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson this year, who should provide additional sizzle off the edge.
What he needs to prove in 2017:
Durability: All of these are moot points if the big guy can’t stay healthy. While the defense wasn’t going to rely on him as the immediate starter, Billings would have seen some pretty significant snaps last year, if healthy.
A major facet that plays into the reliance on a youth movement is having a healthy roster. If Billings can’t get on the field, the excitement of a possible tenacious defense gets quelled.
Helping out against the pass: The reason why Billings supposedly fell in the draft was because scouts felt he was nothing more than a run-stopper in the NFL. It’s an interesting take, given the fact that Billings had 8 quarterback sacks his final two seasons at Baylor (5.5 in 2015), but it’s a stigma he’ll need to shake.
His skills and power all point to him being able to beat double-teams, but it will need to be with regularity. And, with the aforementioned surrounding talent, he should see good opportunities to get into the backfield often.
You can download the SoundCloud clip of the OBI segment here.
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