This offseason, the biggest contract the Bengals watched one of their own free agents take from another team was not given to Russell Bodine, Andre Smith, or even AJ McCarron.
Chris Smith got more total money on the open market than any Bengal of 2017 who the team did not retain. This made some sense, because Smith was arguably the most effective player the Bengals lost this offseason based on 2017 performances.
At 6-1 and 265 pounds, Smith was probably the smallest defensive lineman to play a primarily inside role in the NFL last year. He was a weakside defensive end that was asked to be a 1-gap rusher inside on passing downs and filled that role at a passable level, and he wasn’t the first defensive end asked to play defensive tackle for the Bengals. Rasheem Green can be next in line for this role.
On paper, Green checks a lot of boxes. At 20 years old, he led USC’s defense in tackles for loss and sacks. That’s dominant backfield production against power 5 competition at a very young age, which is all promising.
As an athlete, there are no weaknesses to his profile, he is just as fast as he is explosive as he is flexible. He can get off the ball very fast, can cover ground in a short period of time and can bend under guards to turn the corner to the quarterback.
The problem is, he has trouble putting all of that together
The biggest wart on Green’s tape was his inability to hold ground as a run defender inside. In fairness, he has the size of a c-gap defender, but his ability and athleticism as a pass rusher is best maximized inside. He’s a powerful force with a blend of twitch, but doesn’t have the base or play strength to take on double teams.
Last year, Stanford had little depth along their defensive line and had 270 pound Solomon Thomas playing nose tackle on first and second down. This did no favors for Thomas as he was washed repeatedly whenever teams forced the ball down the middle. He just wasn’t fit for the role, and Green isn’t fit to a full-time 3-technique. But for the Bengals, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Green could also use more refinement as a pass rusher. Plenty of times he would end up cleaning up from exterior pressure and ending up finding the quarterback after the pocket was collapsed.
Against more aware pocket passers, these clean up sacks will be much less frequent. He also rarely crossed the guards face and showed the ability to string together two moves together, and generally rarely went beyond a simple bull rush.
With four defensive tackles already on the roster, Green, like Smith, wouldn’t be needed inside on 1st down and 2nd and short. He really wouldn’t need to play more than Smith’s 401 snaps last year.
Green can become a serviceable edge setter and 1-gap rusher inside. He has the athleticism and length to be a mismatch inside, and youth is also on his side.
There’s still plenty of room to grow for Green, which is good, because he’s not close to being a finished product.