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Bengals’ youth movement points to plan for success

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There may be some growing pains related to the Bengals’ youth movement, but it should set the team up for plenty of long-term success.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Training Camp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, the Bengals sported the 10th oldest roster in the NFL. It was a bit of a jump from sporting the 13th oldest roster in the NFL in 2015 and a huge jump from sporting one of the youngest rosters in the league in the three years prior to that. With an average age in 2016 of 26.3, the Bengals’ roster looked like a group of veterans who should know what they are doing, especially coming off a streak of making the playoffs five years in a row. But, the team’s results on the season (6-9-1) did not live up to those expectations.

As of today, the Bengals’ current 90-man roster has an average age of 24.9 years, the lowest it has been since the Bengals last hit the reset button in the 2011 offseason. Granted, when the team cuts the roster down to 53 players before the season starts, a large number of those cuts will be players 24 and younger, ultimately raising the team’s average age. Still, plenty of young guys like Joe Mixon (20), John Ross (22), and Josh Malone (21) seem to be on track for a roster spot, while older players like Pat Sims (31) and Wallace Gilberry (32) will likely be straddling the roster bubble.

As with any young team, expect this group of Bengals to see their fair share of struggles as the new players begin to learn and adjust to the Bengals’ system. Take the modern Oakland Raiders, for example. After sporting one of the NFL’s oldest and least successful rosters for years, they finally started a youth movement in the 2015 offseason. In 2014, they sported the NFL’s oldest roster at an average of 27 years. They finished with one of the worst records in the NFL that year (3-13).

In response, the Raiders used the 2015 offseason to get much younger. With an average age of 26.45 (23rd youngest in the NFL), the Raiders improved to a record of 7-9. In 2016, they got even younger with an average age of 26.02 (13th in the NFL), and finished with a record of 12-4. The team’s inexperience showed when they lost 27-14 in the first round of the playoffs to a more mature Texans squad, though they also lost their starting quarterback to an injury in the week’s prior, which played a major role in the loss. But, the Raiders’ youth movement seems to be paying off as they bring in top, young talent to fill their roster. Heading into 2017, Oakland is regularly discussed as a dark horse Super Bowl candidate to potentially challenge the Patriots in the AFC.

The Bengals could follow a similar trajectory in 2017. Their poor season in 2016 isn’t too far from what the Raiders put together in 2014. The Bengals did a fantastic job of finding players who fit in terms of scheme and talent this offseason, which could lead to a push for a solid season in 2017. The Bengals may not be exactly where they want to be in 2017, but by 2018 is when the talent should come together for a hugely productive season, leading to Super Bowl aspirations in the next few years.

A similar pattern can be seen from the Seattle Seahawks, who started building a younger roster after their results started to trail off near the end of the 2000s decade. By 2012, they consistently sported one of the youngest rosters in the NFL at 25.77 years in 2012, which happened to be their first winning season since 2007. They won the Super Bowl in 2013 with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters (25.31 - 4th youngest in the NFL). And, they returned to the Super Bowl the following year with the NFL’s seventh youngest roster.

Like the Raiders and Seahawks, the Bengals can see long-term success develop from their current youth movement, provided they stick to their scheme and continue to develop talent around the plan they’ve set into motion. The Bengals should be a very exciting team to watch during the next few years and the youth movement, coupled with the core veterans, could be what makes it all happen.