The Cincinnati Bengals are notorious for not playing their rookies, especially on defense. But so far this season, that seems to be very different, and although it hasn’t lead to a win yet, the rookies seem to be improving the play at several positions for the Bengals.
And it’s only the second game of the season, which is promising considering younger players generally get more snaps as the season gets on. We have barely seen Jordan Evans or first-round pick John Ross yet, but both have made big impacts on the field and have the potential to make even bigger impacts as the season progresses. Marvin Lewis may be feeling the pressure after a rough 2016 season, and so far this approach seems to be paying dividends.
1. Jordan Willis
Willis already seemed like he was in line to get a lot of snaps spelling Michael Johnson as a pass rusher. Then Johnson suffered a concussion in week one, and Willis ended up getting the start in his place. He may not have managed to get a sack yet, but he is playing well against both the run and the pass. He offers a different kind of skill set that the Bengals haven’t had at edge rusher in recent years.
The hope is that Willis continues to improve and he has potential to be a Bengals defensive end of the future. It is still unknown for sure whether Johnson plays in week 3, but either way, look for Willis to get a lot of snaps. Hopefully, Willis can get his first regular-season NFL sack against a potentially weak Green Bay offensive line.
2. Carl Lawson
Lawson is the other edge rusher that the Bengals drafted in the 2017 draft, drafting him a round after Willis. Since he was drafted, however, the Bengals have listed him as a linebacker. He has mostly played defensive end rushing the passer only very occasionally dropping into coverage. He has rewarded the Bengals selection by wreaking havoc off the edge in the passing game.
Lawson has generated multiple pressures and has shown an innate knack for getting after the quarterback. He should continue to improve the more he hones his pass rush and should all season long be a force for opposing defenses to try and handle.
3. Ryan Glasgow
Well, we are starting with three defensive linemen here, but they are all well deserved. Glasgow as a rookie has been getting roughly a third of the Bengals snaps at defensive tackle behind Geno Atkins and Pat Sims. With those snaps, he has played pretty well, never dominant, but for a fourth-round rookie, he has done well.
Glasgow’s relentless motor is what really makes him a good player as it’s something not many players have like him. He is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback and the ball carrier. He may not be a wrecking ball like Geno is, but then again, almost nobody is. Glasgow should be a very nice rotational piece for the remainder of the season and give the starters a rest while offering more pass rush than the Bengals’ defensive tackles not named Atkins.
4. Joe Mixon
Mixon has a lot of potential to be an all-star running back in the NFL. The only things holding him back is being behind two veteran backs and the Bengals’ offensive line issues. Now though the Bengals have switched offensive coordinators at least one of these problems could end up being no more.
It is still a mystery as to how Bill Lazor will treat his trio of running backs, but I imagine that we will see more of Mixon in the coming games. With an increased workload, we might finally start to see him get his feet underneath him and see him start breaking those big gains he did so often at Oklahoma.
Hopefully, by the end of this season, there will be two more names on this list. John Ross was benched last game after a fumble, but this could be another thing Lazor can fix. Getting Ross in space and also getting him matched up one on one against opposing team's cornerbacks would be a big deal as it can help open up the offense.
If there is another threat in this offense other than A.J. Green, then the offense as a whole should open up. Jordan Evans probably won’t see much playing time this season considering he hasn’t gotten much even with Burfict out. However, with his athleticism, Evans will be hard to keep off the field forever, and he should make an impact eventually.
This draft is so far looking like a big win for the Bengals even without the first-round pick factored in.