But, if we’re thinking about the Bengals’ long-term future, then a position other than center, linebacker or offensive tackle may be a bigger need.
Defensive end is a position that’s going to be one of the team’s biggest strengths in 2018, but it could quickly turn into a major weakness as early as 2019. That’s because Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are both free agents in 2019, and Johnson is nearing the end of his career anyhow.
Sure, Carl Lawson was a force off the edge as a nickel pass-rusher in 2017, but is he ready to become a full-time defensive end?
And can the Bengals rely on Jordan Willis, who was also a situational guy as a rookie but only had one sack?
Lest we forget Chris Smith is now in Cleveland after getting being productive in limited playing time in 2017.
All of this is why defensive end is a position the Bengals may be wise to address early in this year’s draft, and LSU’s Arden Key is one of the top edge defenders in the 2018 class.
It just so happens the Bengals will host Key for a pre-draft visit on Thursday, one day after LSU’s pro day, according to the NFL Network.
Key is also very open to playing for a defensive-minded coach like Marvin Lewis.
“Coach Marvin Lewis, he’s a great defensive mind. He was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator back when they had Ray Lewis and won (Super Bowl XXXV) with all those guys,” Key said. “Lord have mercy, that was a good defense. That Baltimore Ravens team was my favorite NFL team until they all split up.”
Key also revealed he had a formal interview with the Bengals at the NFL Scouting Combine, which involved some odd questions.
“It was different than most of them. They sat me down and had me do some math problems. I didn’t understand that,” Key said. “I didn’t ask them why -- no questions asked, you just do what they tell you -- but I was wondering. But math is my favorite subject, so I did fine with it. ... I thought they weren’t that interested in me, then boom, I’m on a 30 visit with them, so you just never know with this process.”
Key’s best collegiate season came as a true sophomore in 2016, where he racked up 12 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 56 tackles and three forced fumbles.
But things took a bad turn for Key in 2017. He took some time away from the program during the spring of 2017 for personal reasons but returned in the summer, but he also underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, then suffered a finger injury during the regular season.
All of this led to a down year for Key, as he recorded just 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. He still wound up entering the NFL Draft, where he hopes to convince teams to draft him based on his 2016 tape, which had him looking like a first-round pick.
Key will have a tough time cracking Round 1, but if the Bengals can scoop him up early in Round 2, it would be a great addition to this defensive line, even if he doesn’t play much as a rookie.