While Marvin Lewis has some areas for criticism with his draft hauls and proper development of young players, there are a couple areas in which he has excelled. One is in grooming mid and low-round defensive tackles into quality NFL linemen, and another is finding contributors in the undrafted ranks.
One such player who could turn some heads this preseason is defensive tackle Josh Tupou. He’s massive, which could provide value in the rugged AFC North. However, even though he brings the biggest amount of size over any other defensive tackle on the roster, there is intense competition at the position this year.
Position: Defensive tackle
Weight: 350 pounds
Hometown: Long Beach, CA
Draft Status: Undrafted in 2017
As an undrafted player this offseason, Tupou signed a three-year, $1,665,000 contract. His 2017 cap hit is $465,000 and he carries and average annual salary of $555,000, per Spotrac. After the contract expires, he will be a restricted free agent (RFA) in 2020.
The Bengals struggled with their two starters in Domata Peko and Geno Atkins in the lineup last year, especially against the run in the early part of 2016. In fact, in seven of their first 11 games, Cincinnati’s defense allowed 100-plus rushing yards. And, not coincidentally, the Bengals went 3-6-1 during that span. Of course, Atkins was dominant as always, but Peko lost a step and the backups weren’t able to do enough to help out the group.
Andrew Billings appears to be the heir apparent to the departed Peko as the starter opposite of Atkins, but the Bengals need to make sure they have the middle of the defensive line stockpiled. One of the keys to a rebound this year will be in the team being more stout against the run.
Tupou could be a nice ancillary piece to plug in on run downs. This division can run the ball well and the team also faces two other teams with talented backs in the Titans and Jaguars, so the team might be inclined to go for Tupou’s size over other players’ versatility at the position.
In college, Tupou racked up 123 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in four seasons for Colorado. He also had one fumble recovery.
Even with his size, Tupou has an uphill climb to make the final roster this year. The team is probably going to keep one player from the veteran duo of Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson, while also sifting through other players they have amassed recently in Ryan Glasgow, David Dean and DeShawn Williams.
Tupou will need to really shine in the preseason, which has helped to keep Dean and Williams around, even though they also went undrafted. While he’s known for his run-stopping ability, Tupou did have five sacks his past two seasons with the Buffaloes. He might need to flash some pass-rush ability this summer if he is to leapfrog some of the others onto the final roster.
Roster odds: 10 percent.