We aren’t that far removed from the 2015 season when analysts were raving about how talented the Bengals roster was.
Even the Ravens’ head coach, John Harbaugh, said the Bengals were the most talented team in the NFL that season.
Now it isn’t even that surprising to see Gil Brandt of NFL.com say the Bengals don’t have a top 10 roster, so what happened?
Well you can actually look at that 2015 draft as the catalyst. Prior to 2015 the Bengals had a string of some very good drafts that culminated in the perfect storm in 2015. They had obviously drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton to get it started, but picks like Geno Atkins, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and George Iloka panning out, despite not being super early picks, is why that team was so deep.
In the 2015 draft, the Bengals whiffed on Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher at offensive tackle. Neither were able to pick up the slack when the team eventually let Andrew Whitworth walk away. However, outside of Tyler Kroft at tight end, that draft was a complete miss. Even Josh Shaw is on the fringe of making the roster this season after playing poorly last year.
This trend continued in 2016 as William Jackson and Andrew Billings were set a year back after spending the season on injured reserve. Then in 2017, John Ross was hardly available for most of the season, and it took the Bengals too long to really infuse their younger talent into the starting lineup.
Now, the Bengals are closer to a top-10 roster than most people expect. What needs to happen is these young players must show up and play to their potential. The Bengals have guys like Green and Atkins, who are some of the best players in the NFL at their positions, but they need guys like Ross, Joe Mixon, Jackson, and even rookie center Billy Price to step up early to help take the pressure off the rest of this roster.
Jackson has already showed off his talent, but in 2018, he will have to do it for an entire season. Mixon also became the lead running back last season, but he was inefficient with only 3.5 yards per carry. A full offseason could do plenty of good for all the young budding Bengals.
Also, you could say the Bengals had a fairly deep roster last season. They just had to go through most of it. The linebacker position was particularly bad as it seemed like there was a different starting lineup every week there, not to mention an already bad offensive line was forced to play Clint Boling at tackle for a stretch due to injuries. Although to be fair, Boling did hold his own.
The biggest improvement has to be to the offensive line though. The Bengals have a huge upgrade in Price at center after watching Russell Bodine get pancaked for four seasons. The Bengals also brought in former Bills offensive tackle Cordy Glenn via trade.
When healthy, Glenn is one of the best at his position. If these additions, along with bringing in former Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack to help develop the younger guys, can help fix the biggest issues holding the 7-9 Bengals back last season, then we shouldn’t be shocked to see the Bengals included in a list like this next season.