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Ranking the Bengals’ roster: 11-20, second tier starters

The Bengals’ starting lineup features some key players who have not recently been playing at a ‘top tier’ level, but certainly have the potential to do so.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

There are 25 starters on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster. 11 on offense, 11 on defense, a kicker, a punter and a long snapper. So, the players ranked in this edition of our ranking of all 90 players on the roster (by groupings of 10) are among that slate of players, but not quite the best of the starting group, landing them in the 11-20 ranking category.

This group of players is all about those starters and potential new starters for this season, who occupy very important roles for the team, but are not quite top 10 talent. Every player on this list could potentially play a crucial role in 2017, but for now they are overshadowed by the most successful players on the roster

So far, we’ve ranked the #21-90 players on the Bengals’ roster:

#81-90, the little chance group

#71-80, the dark horses

#61-70, the tough cuts

#51-60, the roster bubble

#41-50, safe for now

#31-40, core depth

#21-30, ‘on the cusp’

Next, we move on to the players ranked 11-20, in no particular order:

Russell Bodine, center

The Bengals traded up in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft to select Bodine, who tested off the charts in terms of strength and football IQ. Unfortunately, his short arms, less developed leg strength, and generally slow nature have kept him from reaching his full potential in the NFL. The Bengals have stood behind him as the starting center for the last three years, but his performance leaves a lot to be desired. 2017 is the final year of Bodine’s rookie deal and he’ll be hoping to earn a second contract—either in Cincinnati or elsewhere—with improve play this season.

Andre Smith, guard

The Bengals brought their 2009 No. 6 overall pick back this offseason with the intention of moving him inside to right guard in the absence of Kevin Zeitler. The move makes sense. As Smith gets older, he will need to rely more on strength and technique than his athleticism to contribute, which works perfectly at the guard position. Then again, expectations must be managed for a multitude of reasons. Not only is making the jump from one position to another, mid-career, a difficult one. But, the Bengals let Smith make the move to Minnesota last season because of his unreliability, inconsistency, and tendency toward poorly-timed penalties. He will need to improve in that area significantly if he wants to make the jump to the next category. At this point, Smith is the favorite to win the right guard job, but it’s no certainty he does in fact start there Week 1.

Shawn Williams, safety

The Bengals have to be happy with their former third round pick. Since he was selected No. 84 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, he has proven himself to be a very useful addition to the team. He didn’t make much of an impact in his first two seasons as he sat behind Reggie Nelson and George Iloka on the depth chart. But, he was more than ready to fill in for Iloka in 2015 following an injury, and he earned the starting job outright in 2016, a season in which he recorded 81 total tackles, a sack, five pass deflections, and three interceptions. The Bengals are comfortable at the safety position, partially due to his presence. That said, he isn’t quite as productive or important to the Bengals’ defensive backfield as Iloka, his partner at the safety position (and someone who will be on the top 10 Bengals list coming up next).

Kevin Minter, linebacker

Although he has never played a snap with the Bengals, Minter is of great importance to the Bengals’ lineup in 2017. The Bengals signed him a week before releasing veteran linebacker Rey Maualuga, whom the Bengals desperately needed to find an improvement for at the middle linebacker position. In his last two seasons, Minter started all 32 games at middle linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals, recording 175 total tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble, and six pass deflections. In the same two seasons, Maualuga only recorded 102 total tackles, a fumble recovery, six pass deflections, and two interceptions. Granted, Maualuga has recorded an interception in each of his last four seasons, something Minter has never done once in his four year career. But, a linebacker’s primary job is to tackle the ball carrier, something Minter has done a much better job of recently. The Bengals need him to step up in 2017 and help make the linebacker unit a more reliable one.

Clint Boling, guard

Now the longest-tenured veteran on the Bengals’ offensive line (considering Andre Smith is currently in his first season back with the team), Boling’s responsibilities on the line are increasing dramatically. He will be expected to lead a unit coming off a very disappointing season back to prominence. He will need to return to the level of play that earned him a five-year contract extension during the 2015 offseason and hope he can do enough to make up for other deficiencies along the line.

Kevin Huber, punter

Huber has been one of the most consistent and productive players on the Bengals’ roster for much of the last decade. He has recorded 45+ yards per punt, save for his first two seasons with the team and in 2016, finished with the third best yards per punt average of his career (46.3). With that said, his hang time has ranked the lowest among all NFL punters in recent years. Still, he has the potential to be the steady, reliable Cincinnati-native punter we all know and love, and is hoping to return to Pro Bowl form in 2017.

Joe Mixon, running back

Although it seems the Bengals’ second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is on pace to be the next big thing in Cincinnati, he still needs to earn his stripes to be considered a top tier player on the team. Giovani Bernard is an established running back on the roster and Jeremy Hill is in a contract year. Therefore, it could be difficult for Mixon to break into the starting lineup right away. It seems likely he’ll eventually earn the starting role and, in the future, he could push his way into the top tier list. But, for now, he still needs to show what he can do, which starts with the preseason.

Brandon LaFell, wide receiver

LaFell quietly had one of the best seasons of his career in his first season with the Bengals (64 catches for 862 yards and six touchdowns). Only his performance with the New England Patriots in 2014 was better than his statistical production last year. His performance was also better, statistically, than Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in their final season with the Bengals, two players LaFell was brought in to replace. Needless to say, LaFell is already one of the most successful free agent signings the Bengals have ever had at the wide receiver position.

So, why is he ranked in the ‘second-tier’ category? He is 30-years-old and seems to have already hit his ceiling with the team. He was a solid complement/fill in for A.J. Green in 2016, but there is no guarantee how long his career will last. He should still have plenty of gas left in the tank, but the Bengals are looking to the future at wide receiver right now, leaving LaFell purely in the role of a temporary fill-in. Considering he’s not the top player at his position on the roster, it’s easy for him to fall into the 11-20 category.

John Ross, wide receiver

As talented as Ross is and as large as his role is expected to be going forward, it is difficult to rank any rookie among the top-tier players on the Bengals’ roster, both in terms of importance and expected production. In three years of college production, Ross recorded 114 catches for 1,729 yards and 22 touchdowns. In the NFL, he is expected to provide a speedy and impressive receiving threat opposite of A.J. Green, but we haven’t seen it at the NFL level, so his NFL career is pure speculation at this point. Here’s to hoping for big things for Ross this year and for many years to come.

Adam Jones, cornerback

For the longest time, ranking Jones anywhere other than a top-10 spot on the Bengals roster would be seen as ridiculous. Even now, only a year removed from a Pro Bowl berth and two years removed from a First-team All-Pro honor, it seems weird to downplay the importance of a long-time starter in the defensive backfield, as well as one of the greatest kick/punt returners in the team’s history. However, he will be 34-years-old in two months and didn’t play up to his standards in 2016. Combine all that with his recent arrest and suspension, you get a situation where he is becoming more and more expendable, though, still remains a starter and important player to the team.