After an abysmal season, the Bengals have many holes to fill.
They are not a team that has been known for making a large splash in the free agent market, but hopefully, this year will be different. The Bengals have major needs at offensive tackle, center, tight end, defensive tackle, and linebacker.
1. Tahir Whitehead - Linebacker
The Bengals have a need at linebacker, so why not target the leading tackler from new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s former team. Whitehead has been electric for the Lions the last two seasons, with 132 tackles in 2016 and 110 tackles in 2017. Having experience under Austin means he can help the rest of the linebacker corps to transition to the new system. Whitehead would be a great acquisition at a position of desperate need for the Bengals.
2. Chris Hubbard – Offensive tackle
The only thing more satisfying than making the Bengals better is making the Steelers worse at the same time. Hubbard has been a reserve tackle for the Steelers throughout his career, but he looked impressive when he has had a chance to crack the lineup. This season, with Marcus Gilbert battling injury, Hubbard started the majority of the year at right tackle. Hubbard has proven that he is capable of being a quality starter in this league and would be a major upgrade for the Bengals' offensive line.
3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Tight end
Jenkins is a highly talented player with a checkered past – sounds like a Bengal to me. Seferian-Jenkins struggled with off-field issues at the beginning of his career, but thankfully, he has turned a corner in his life. The change has been evident on the field where after serving a two-game suspension Seferian-Jenkins shined for the Jets’ offense in 2017. He had 50 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns this season, and he showed all the makings of a potential top-tier tight end in this league.
4. Sheldon Richardson – Defensive tackle
Richardson also had a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy in 2015, but he seems to have moved on from this issue over the past two seasons. Richardson is an extremely talented defensive tackle who can play on every down. He had 27 tackles for the Seahawks in 2017 and 38 tackles for the Jets in 2016. His sack numbers have been down the last few years, but the Bengals wouldn't need him to be a pass rusher since they already have Geno Atkins.
5. Byron Bell – Offensive tackle
Bell is a versatile offensive lineman who can play guard, right tackle and even left tackle in a pinch. Bell has the advantage of having played for new Bengals' offensive line coach Frank Pollack for a year in Dallas, but he was not a starter for most of 2017. Bell was a regular starter for the Panthers and Titans earlier in his career before missing the entire 2016 season with a dislocated ankle. Bell could certainly help out this depleted Cincinnati line, and having already coached him for a year, Pollack would have a great idea of how he might fit in with the Bengals.
6. Cameron Fleming – Offensive tackle
Fleming makes this list over fellow Patriot offensive tackle Nate Solder largely due to his age. Fleming is ranked a little lower because he is a Patriot, and if Bill Belichick lets this twenty-five-year-old go while re-signing Solder who will be thirty by next season, that is a strong indicator that Belichick doesn’t think Fleming can be the guy. Fleming has played in the majority of Patriots games over the past three seasons as a tackle and tight end in heavy formations. He has started at least five games in each of those seasons as well. Fleming is a solid player who would definitely be an upgrade for the Bengals offensive line. There are obvious advantages to adding a player who has been around such great success as Fleming has made it to the Super Bowl in three of his four NFL seasons.
7. Ezekiel Ansah – Defensive end
Pass rusher was a big need for the Bengals last year, but the emergence of 2017 fourth round pick Carl Lawson has made it less of a priority. Still, you can never have too many skilled pass rushers, and Ansah is certainly that. Playing for the Lions in Austin’s defense, Ansah had 12 sacks in 2017 and has amassed 44 sacks in his career. This could be a great opportunity to leverage the hiring of a new coach to bring in a talented veteran defender. The trick will be figuring out how to get the most out of all of their gifted pass rushers, but that type of problem would be welcomed in Cincinnati.
8. Avery Williamson - Linebacker
Williamson had 92 tackles for the Titans last year, and he has broken the 100-tackle season mark twice in his career. With Bengals’ linebacker Kevin Minter entering free agency, Williamson would be a great candidate to upgrade that position. Adding a talented, productive player like Williamson to the middle of the defense would be a major improvement and solidify the defensive front.
9. Trey Burton – Tight end
Burton looked good when Zach Ertz was injured during the season, and he will likely be looking for an opportunity to start in 2018. As the number two tight end in Philadelphia this season, Burton had 23 receptions for 248 yards and five touchdowns. Burton is not as athletic as Tyler Eifert or as big as Ertz, but he could blossom into a nice weapon if given an opportunity in the right offense.
10. Cameron Brate – Tight end
Brate came on strong for the Buccaneers in 2016 with 57 receptions for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. This year he took a small step back with 48 receptions for 591 yards and six touchdowns. Brate has shown himself to be a versatile player who can be counted on in the red zone. The Buccaneers will probably be moving on from him, having drafted O.J. Howard in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Brate would be a solid pick up for the Bengals with the oft-injured Eifert entering free agency this offseason.