Last season, the Bengals saw a couple new faces emerge as top players on the team. With William Jackson and Carl Lawson, Cincinnati was able to have a couple players on rookie contracts contribute heavily, which isn’t something we always see. The Bengals hope that continues in the 2018 season and there are several new breakout candidates for the team based on positions where there will be training camp battles. After a string of lackluster drafts that caused the team to struggle, the Bengals need the recent draft picks to help the team get back on the right track. Here are our top five breakout candidates for the Bengals in 2018.
1. WR John Ross
It feels like Ross is constantly being talked about and with good reason. The Bengals have needed an upgrade at the receiver position opposite A.J. Green ever since Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left. Ross should be that guy and that is why the Bengals spent a top 10 draft pick on him. If he can play like he did in college then he has the potential to be a player as good if not better than Jones, having the ability to even be a number one wide receiver. Of course, the Bengals don’t need him to the be the No. 1 guy, but they could use some nice production out of him, fitting for the No. 2 receiver role. If Ross can stay healthy, we should fully expect him to breakout and help all aspects of the Bengals’ offense.
2. OL Christian Westerman
Last season the Bengals had Trey Hopkins take over for Kevin Zeitler at right guard and although his play was decent, that doesn’t mean the Bengals shouldn’t be looking to upgrade. Westerman was thought of as a possible day 2 pick in the draft, but ended up falling to the fifth round where the Bengals scooped him up. Now the Bengals hope that he can use his athleticism and power and improve the play at right guard. Zeitler was one of the best interior offensive lineman and there is no reason that Westerman can’t become an elite player as well. First, he needs to win the starting right guard job though.
3. RB Joe Mixon
There were a lot of factors that led to Mixon’s disappointing rookie season and several of them have been improved upon. In 2017 it seemed there were too many mouths to feed in the Bengals running back room and it didn’t seem like the team knew what to do with them all. Why was Jeremy Hill starting every game when he was healthy again? Now that Hill is gone, there is a more clear path to splitting snaps between Giovani Bernard and Mixon. Also with the improvements to the offensive line and Bill Lazor having a full offseason to implement his game plan the arrow is pointing up for Mixon in 2018.
4. LB Jordan Evans
It is debatable which Bengals linebacker deserves to be on this list. With his great athleticism and stellar play during the 2017 preseason, Evans has shown a lot of potential. The hope is that in the 2018 season he extends his great preseason play into the regular season. With Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first four games of the year, Evans should get a lot of snaps to start the season. If he can perform well he could take the three down starter position next to Burfict upon the veteran’s return in Week 5. Either way, the Bengals should figure out a way to coach up Evans and get him on the field frequently.
5. DE Jordan Willis
Carl Lawson already had a breakout season in 2017 during his rookie year with almost 10 sacks. However, Willis who was drafted a round ahead of him did not have nearly that much success playing mostly on run downs. However, this was expected; although Willis has great athleticism, he was raw as a pass rusher and did not utilize said athleticism well. With Willis reportedly bulking up this offseason, he looks to be a monster against the run and hopefully will have developed more as a pass rusher as well. If Willis can utilize his athleticism, he has the potential to be one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. He should be starting alongside Carlos Dunlap at defensive end this year.