After the Cincinnati Bengals’ first two preseason games, Chris Smith and Jordan Willis were the top graded guys in each matchup when it came to Pro Football Focus’ grading. That changed on Sunday after the Bengals took on the Washington Redskins in Week 3 of the preseason.
Wide receiver A.J. Green is typically the best player on the field in any game for the Bengals, so when the starters played for a full half of action, Green was able to display his Pro Bowl ability and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Bengals player on Sunday:
There was redemption for a number of players missing time in 2016 through injury, including A.J. Green. He is so fundamental to the potency of the Bengals’ offense, even more so with the offensive line in a state of flux. Green was back to his best, snagging four of six targets to 43 yards. He’s simply unstoppable at times when using his big frame to box out defensive backs, relying more on strength than subtlety. Green looks ready for Week 1.
Here’s a look at PFF’s top 5 highest graded Bengals on Sunday*:
WR A.J. Green, 80.6 overall grade
G Alex Redmond, 80.0 overall grade
WR Kermit Whitfield, 76.0 overall grade
FB Ryan Hewitt, 75.8 overall grade
G Andre Smith, 75.0 overall grade
Though Smith was listed by PFF as a guard, he played backup left tackle on Sunday and did a good job at the position. He was expected to play right guard this year, after playing exclusively at right tackle in the NFL, but it seems he’s officially lost that job to Trey Hopkins, who once again started in the latest preseason matchup.
Smith did surprisingly well at left tackle on Sunday, which is confirmed by PFF’s grades. Considering how poorly Eric Winston has played this preseason, it seems Smith may now get the nod as the backup for left and right tackle, and Winston may not make the 53-man roster at all.
Elsewhere along the offensive line, Alex Redmond was the second highest graded player on the team. He played left guard with the second team offense on Sunday and is fighting for a roster spot among a crowded but inexperienced group of backups at guard.
Kermit Whitfield was only targeted once in the passing game, but picked up 30 yards on his lone catch of the game. It's encouraging to see him graded so highly, but his chances at making the roster are nearly zero. The practice squad is a possibility for the former Florida State star and College Football Playoff hero.
As for Hewitt, it’s nice to see him graded highly and hopefully his good showing on Sunday will encourage the Bengals to use him more when Jeremy Hill is in at running back. Hill has proven to play better with the help of a fullback. Here’s what PFF had to say about Hewitt:
The Bengals like to get creative with their skill position players, including their backfield blockers. Hewitt stood out as a blocker, crushing linebackers at the second level on a couple of occasions after motioning into the backfield. He’s sufficiently versatile to fill a number of roles, mixing in a handful of routes with a pass protection snap on his seven reps on dropbacks. Hewitt is at his best, however, when he can hurtle headlong into defenders coming downhill. Don’t discount his dirty work.
*Despite PFF saying the above-mentioned Bengals were the highest graded, they also wrote that Burfict had an 85.2 overall grade and William Jackson an 80.7 overall grade, which would slot them in at No. 1 and No. 2 overall respectively among Bengals players on Sunday. It's unclear why PFF is contradicting itself in the singular article that references this all.
As for Burfict, he had quite a game before leaving due to a back injury. He had four tackles and an interception, which he returned 62 yards for a touchdown. Here’s some of PFF’s thoughts on the Bengals’ linebacker:
While he allowed two-of-three responsible targets to be completed, he prevented either reception from gaining a single yard after the catch – 2.0 yards per coverage snap. Impressively, the linebacker out of Arizona State topped all defenders in the contest with an 88.0 coverage grade.
As for Jackson, who surprisingly didn't start after it was expected he would, PFF had some nice praise for him, too. Jackson is competing with Darqueze Dennard for the start at cornerback in Week 1 during Adam Jones' suspension.
After missing all of the 2016 season, the Bengals have to be very excited to see the former Houston Cougar post an 81.2 coverage grade on 17 snaps in coverage. Redskins’ quarterbacks only tested the 2016 first round selection on a single target throughout the game, for which Jackson promptly defensed the pass to score a perfect 0.00 yard per coverage snap average. Cincinnati desperately needs Jackson to display growth beyond his years if the franchise is going to end their playoff losing streak.
It’s unclear why Jackson didn’t start, and while he didn’t record any statistics in the boxscore, PFF still thought he played a good game.
Do any of PFF’s grades this week surprise you?