The Bengals defense had its moments in 2017, flashing very good plays at times but also struggling heavily at other moments.
In 2018 the Bengals will hope their defense can return to the dominance seen in past years and show some more consistency under Teryl Austin. Having a better offense and not spending so much time on the field with bad starting field position also would definitely help. The Bengals spent the majority of their draft picks on defensive players including all three of their day 2 picks. It is unclear how much these players will play, but it shows the Bengals’ dedication to fixing their defense for the upcoming season. There are many reasons to be hopeful for the Bengals defense to potentially be one of the best in the league in the 2018 season, which really starts with the emergence of William Jackson III.
Here are five things we hope to see from the Bengals’ defense in 2018.
1. As much William Jackson III as possible!
Jackson didn’t get to play in his rookie season after suffering a pectoral injury in training camp, essentially making 2017 his rookie year. Jackson was better than we even hoped for last year. If it was actually Jackson’s rookie season, it would not have been crazy for him to have competed for the defensive rookie of the year title. Funnily enough, he largely got snaps because of injuries at the position, but his play was so good the Bengals felt comfortable to let Adam Jones go and now Jackson looks like a surefire bet to be an every down starter and hopefully get the national recognition he deserves.
2. Continued growth from Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis.
Carl Lawson was the Bengals’ best rookie in 2017 and one of the best defensive rookies in the league. After a strong rookie year, it looks as if we will be seeing a lot more of Lawson in 2018. That is scary to every quarterback who has to play against the Bengals in 2018. However, Lawson will likely not be playing much on run first downs, which will instead be played by the defensive end the Bengals selected along with Lawson in 2017, Jordan Willis. Willis is an athletic freak and could also turn into a plus pass rusher with the right development. Hopefully, the Bengals will see continued growth from both of these guys in 2018 as they revitalize the team’s pass rush.
3. Youth renaissance at linebacker.
The Bengals have selected a linebacker in each of the last three drafts, often in a different line than ones they’ve drafted in the past. They have been largely focusing on linebackers with plus athleticism as something that is necessary in the modern day NFL. Malik Jefferson and Jordan Evans are both big, athletic freaks and although both are a little raw, they have the potential to grow into really good linebackers. With the evolution of the NFL into a passing-based game. the need for athletic linebackers has grown and the Bengals hope that Jefferson and Evans can grow into a pass coverage phenoms using their athleticism to help the Bengals fix their problem in the middle of the field. In addition to those two, the Bengals also have Nick Vigil, who may not be as athletic, but is still athletic enough and more polished as a player.
4. More interceptions and fumble recoveries.
Austin has put an emphasis on getting turnovers and forcing impact plays into the minds of Bengals players. Every ball that hits the ground during Bengals practice is to be “scooped” like it is a fumble no matter what. A trend among the teams that win the most across the league is often winning the turnover differential, so seeing this emphasis on turnovers is certainly a good thing. The Bengals also invested in this mindset through the draft where the team took Jessie Bates and Darius Phillips, both players with a reputation for excellent ball skills.
5. Playing the best players regardless of their age.
The Bengals played Lawson often last season even though he was only a rookie and he responded with a fantastic season with 8 sacks. The Bengals need to continue to shun their reluctance for not playing rookies as they can be difference makers who can change the makeup of a team. You only have to look at the 2017 season to see the kind of impact teams like the Saints felt through their rookie draft picks. The Bengals certainly seemed to embrace this with the selection of Billy Price to play center and even Bates looks likely to get a decent amount of snaps as a center-fielder. However, the Bengals can’t be afraid to embrace competition of even the lower round guys as anyone could make a positive impact on the team. The best players should be playing, regardless of their age or when they were drafted.