Any time a football team wins a game, there tends to be some knee-jerk reactions as a result. In a win, said team may seem invulnerable, while after a loss there’s sometimes a need to immediately assess and look to make improvements.
There was a lot to like in the Bengals’ 23-12 win over the Buccaneers in the 2017 preseason opener and with many positives to be taken from the victory, some can tend to go over the top with predictions. It’s early but we’re going big on some long-term insights based on observations we saw on Friday night. Are these overreactions or are they right on?
The Bengals still have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL:
Free agency has taken its toll on the Bengals the past two offseasons, but the preseason opener once again displayed the team’s depth in so many areas. Sure, the offensive line remains a concern, but the team appears to have a glut of talent in many other important spots.
Quarterback, running back, wide receiver and spots on both the defensive line and secondary seem to be stacked. This was on display on Friday night, as third-string quarterback Jeff Driskel shined, while all of the other aforementioned positions had their moments of greatness. Maybe we should continue to trust the Bengals’ front office and their draft-and-develop strategy, after all.
Cincinnati is looking good at kicker:
One of the biggest areas of concern going into the 2017 regular season is the team’s kicking situation. Back in the 2016 NFL Draft, most Bengals fans were clamoring for the team to grab Roberto Aguayo, who was widely-considered the best at his position in last year’s class.
Fast-forward a year and Aguayo was cut by the team who traded up to get him in the second round (the final straw for Tampa Bay was coincidentally against the Bengals on Friday). Meanwhile, the Bengals are sorting things out between veteran Randy Bullock and rookie Jake Elliott. Cincinnati’s kickers were perfect on all attempts on Friday, which included two long field goal attempts. Aguayo was snatched up by the Chicago Bears on the waiver wire, and Cincinnati shouldn’t need him anyway as they look to be in a much better special teams situation than they were with Mike Nugent.
Their last two draft classes will immensely help them get back to the playoffs:
Last year, two of the more promising draft picks of the team’s 2016 class landed on Injured Reserve before they even took a snap. In just one preseason game in 2017, cornerback William Jackson III and defensive tackle Andrew Billings made their mark. Both look to be fighting for prominent roles this year and they should help an already solid defense. Oh, and Tyler Boyd is quietly a big piece of the offensive puzzle once again as he enters his second season.
Part of the draft plan with the 2017 class was not only to get younger and faster, but to grab guys who can contribute right away. While the Bengals were cautious with John Ross on Friday as he rested, we saw a lot of promise from Elliott, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Ryan Glasgow and Jordan Evans. While none of these guys might be “starters” in Week 1 (or at all this year), they should be immensely helpful in rotation and/or on special teams.
Joe Mixon will make a serious case for 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Mixon is doing everything the Bengals and their fans had hoped for thus far: he’s keeping his nose clean and playing great football. He had over five yards per carry on Friday, while also adding a dazzling 11-yard reception.
There are a number of quality offensive players who came out in this year’s draft class, including Ross, but Mixon appears to be the real deal. Even though he was the fourth running back taken in this year’s draft, Mixon has the prototypical combination of size, speed, versatility and power to take the NFL by storm this year.
Jordan Willis might be the best long-term prospect of the 2017 class:
While Mixon might be an immediate impact guy, the shelf-lives of NFL running backs can be short compared to other positions in the league. For this reason, Willis might end up being the most productive player in the 2017 class.
On Friday, Willis had a couple pressures and a sack, while also contributing in the run game. He is the likely successor to Michael Johnson, who is entering the twilight of his solid career, and the similarities are uncanny. High character, great arm length and athleticism are also part of Willis’ repertoire, making us wonder why he lasted until the third round.
Cincinnati’s offensive line isn’t quite the shambles most think it is:
With the amount of talent at nearly every other spot on the roster, the Bengals’ offensive line is rightfully under the microscope. After losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency this offseason, the team has been scrambling to put together their best lineup possible. Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher are being watched particularly closely and many in the national media feel that if there’s anything keeping them from the playoffs in 2017, it’s the line.
However, on Friday night, Trey Hopkins showed his versatility and effectiveness, while the entire unit let up as many sacks (two) as the Bengals’ defense generated. Mixon, Driskel, Jeremy Hill and Tra Carson all were able to find running room on the ground, thanks to some holes opened up by them embattled crew up front. With the surrounding talent, all Cincinnati may need is for this group to play at an average or slightly above-average level in 2017 for the team to get back to the postseason. And, at least on Friday night, we saw that type of play.