The Bengals have acquired quite a bit of young talent over the past couple of seasons, including some highly talented players who have yet to hit their prime. In most cases 25-years-old is the age players hit their prime, so why not see who the best players are on the roster who have yet to hit that mark.
A couple disclaimers first. All of these players are under 25 meaning a guy like William Jackson who turned 25 in April doesn’t qualify. I also attempted to keep rookies off the list, but I had to stick one in there. I didn’t want fresh draft eyes to take over the list.
10) Billy Price, center
The only rookie I felt I could rightfully put on the list is the Bengals’ first round pick. We haven’t seen Price yet on an NFL field, but he is going to stroll right into that starting center role that was vacated by Russell Bodine. The thing with Price is the bar isn’t set too high at that position. Bengals fans have been cursed to watch Bodine get bulldozed into the backfield for four years, so as long as Price is even just an average center who has his ups and downs he will be viewed as a hero. Still, we should—and are—expect pretty big things.
9) Jordan Evans, linebacker
Evans was a sixth round pick from the 2017 draft. He got some playing time last year due to all the injuries at the position and did’t blow anyone away, but he proved he may have the tools to become a starter one day or at least a nice depth linebacker. Not to mention, he had a fantastic preseason last year. The future seems bright for the former Oklahoma Sooner.
8) Andrew Billings, defensive tackle
This is a prove it year for Billings. The Bengals felt they had a steal in the 2016 draft when Billings fell all the way to the fourth round, but after missing his rookie season and having an inconsistent season last year, it is time to prove he can start next to Geno Atkins. Billings did show flashes of what people thought he could be last year though, so that is encouraging.
7) Tyler Boyd, wide receiver
The 2017 season for Boyd was almost a train wreck. He ended the year by ending the Ravens’ playoff hopes with a 49 yard touchdown reception. Still, Boyd gets this high on the list due to his rookie season where he showed he could be a solid contributor. He also has converted 47 plays into first downs in his first two seasons. There will be a lot of pressure for Boyd to contribute more this season and rise the standard of being a second round pick.
6) Ryan Glasgow, defensive tackle
Glasgow may not have the ceiling of the other players on this list but he gets labeled as a motor guy. He just wants it more than most players, and he never quits on a play. Glasgow already seems to fit into the role of a fantastic rotational defensive tackle. It is hard not to notice when he is on the field. We shouldn’t be shocked to see him stay in stripes for a long time and fight for the same role Billings is yearning for this year.
5) Clayton Fejedelem, safety
The reason I have Fejedelem ranked so high is because he was an alternate for the Pro Bowl last season as a special teamer. He had 15 tackles on special teams last year and was also a solid safety early in the season when George Iloka and Shawn Williams weren’t totally healthy. It seems he is destined to be the leader of the Bengals’ special teams unit for years to come, which isn’t a bad thing by any means.
4) John Ross, wide receiver
I may get a lot of flack for this, but call me an optimist. Ross was viewed as one of the top playmakers in the draft last season, and injuries and being behind on the playbook derailed his rookie season. He has done his part to reverse that this offseason though. It is clear Ross has all the talent in the world. It is up to him to translate that talent on the field.
3) Nick Vigil, linebacker
It is almost shocking to learn Vigil is only 24-years-old. People forget that he was essentially the No. 2 linebacker last season. The Bengals kept him and Vontaze Burfict on the field when the team went into nickel packages. He was fairly productive until an ankle injury slowed him down late in the season. Eventually his season ended on Injured Reserve, but it is clear he has some talent and the Bengals are excited about him.
2) Joe Mixon, running back
Mixon’s rookie season wasn’t what we expected. That was due to a combination of him not getting the touches he deserved early on and the offensive line being a total mess. Still, the Bengals seemed to finally figure out how to use Mixon near the end of last season, and they made some serious improvements to the offensive line. The sky seems to be the limit for Mixon going forward and he should have a much-improved 2018 campaign.
1) Carl Lawson, linebacker/defensive end
Lawson sported easily one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in a while from a Bengals player. Lawson exploded onto the scene with 2.5 sacks against the Packers in Week 3 and totaled 8.5 sacks on the season as a part time pass rusher. This year the Bengals have said they want to use Lawson as a linebacker more, but they’d be foolish to not allow Lawson to rush the passer in obvious pass rushing situations. When you combine him with Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, it makes a recipe that should scare all NFL quarterbacks.