The Cincinnati Bengals made it a point this offseason to upgrade the defensive end position.
Most of that attention has been paid to a pair of pass-rushers the Bengals landed in the 2017 NFL Draft. Getting Jordan Willis in Round 3 and Carl Lawson in Round 4 was just what this defense needed, but another move Cincinnati made this offseason could turn out to be the biggest addition in the short-term.
Back in April, Cincinnati sent a conditional 2018 seventh round NFL Draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Chris Smith, who has been a backup defensive end for the bulk of his three-year career. That’s why many assumed Smith would still be a guy who, at best, would barely made the 53-man roster this year, let alone make a big impact.
But if the preseason is any indicator, Smith could be in for a big role in this defense. In the Bengals’ win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Smith was a monster off the edge, recording seven quarterback pressures while showing tremendous burst off the edge.
That was the most any NFL player recorded in Week 1 of the preseason, and it earned him a spot on the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week:
Edge: Chris Smith, Cincinnati Bengals, 91.0 overall grade
Smith finished the week as the only edge defender with a pass-rush grade above 90.0, with a 92.0. While he did not have a sack, he generated seven total quarterback pressures, most of any player. He was equally effective attacking both sides of the formation, with three pressures on 12 rushes from the right side and four pressures on 11 rushes from the left side.
Smith was not the only player on this list. Another veteran who most assumed wouldn’t make the Bengals’ roster is Randy Bullock, who is fighting with Jake Elliott for the kicker spot.
While Elliott looked good in his preseason opener, it was Bullock who was named to PFF’s Team of the Week as the lone kicker:
Kicker: Randy Bullock, Cincinnati Bengals
Bullock went 2-of-2 on field goals, connecting from 49 and 54 yards. He also added two touchbacks with an average kickoff distance of 70.3 yards
It’s great to see both Smith and Bullock having great preseason debuts, but both veterans are still facing an uphill climb to make the final roster. At defensive end, Smith is battling the likes of Will Clarke, Wallace Gilberry, Marcus Hardison and Ryan Brown for one of those final spots. After his performance versus Tampa Bay, it’s hard not to have Smith among the four to five ends who make the final roster.
As for Bullock, he needs to outshine Elliott by a significant margin to make Cincinnati’s final 53-man roster. The Bengals spent a fifth-round pick on Elliott in this year’s draft, so they’ll do everything in their power to keep him, even at Bullock’s expense.
If nothing else, Smith and Bullock are assuring themselves of having jobs this season, even if they end up being with other teams.