The Bengals haven’t gotten much love this offseason.
Whether it’s oddsmakers, power rankers or just good old-fashioned respect, the Bengals haven’t gotten much, if any of that since they decided to bring back Marvin Lewis for another year.
But while that may have been a questionable decision at best, there’s no denying the Bengals’ roster has improved by leaps and bounds throughout the offseason.
Now, ESPN, with the help of Pro Football Focus, is giving the Bengals a little respect for their quality offseason. In their roster ranking of all 32 NFL teams, ESPN has the Bengals checking in at No. 18. This ranking focuses on the expected starters and how they look in PFF’s metrics.
Biggest strength: Geno Atkins remains one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen, and he would probably get a lot more attention if not for the dominance of Aaron Donald in Los Angeles. Atkins racked up 70 total pressures in 2017, his third straight season with the pass-rushing version of a triple-double: producing double-digit sacks, hits and hurries.
Biggest weakness: The Bengals have a lot of strengths on defense, but linebacker Nick Vigil struggled in 2017. He missed 14 tackles over the first 12 weeks before an injury ended his season. Over those 12 weeks, just 25 of his 56 solo tackles resulted in a defensive stop.
By the numbers: Cornerback William Jackson III could be the NFL’s next breakout star. Jackson allowed just 15 of the 43 passes thrown into his coverage to be caught in 2017, coming away with an interception and 10 pass breakups. Over two games against the Steelers, seven passes were thrown to Antonio Brown with Jackson in coverage. The result? Zero receptions and four pass breakups.
There’s no denying the Bengals have plenty of top-end talent that could carry this team to playoff contention, including Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, A.J. Green, Carl Lawson, Vontaze Burfict, Tyler Eifert and William Jackson.
However, the injury concerns with Eifert and suspension of Burfict make them hard to factor in to how successful the Bengals can be in 2018. Even so, quality players like Preston Brown and Tyler Kroft are ready to step up and help fill the void, which could make the 2018 Bengals more dangerous than we’ve seen over the last two seasons.
Then there’s the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price that will dramatically upgrade this offensive line, easily the team’s biggest weakness in 2017.
Looking ahead, the Bengals have seven games against teams that are high in this ranking, the highest being the Falcons (2) and Saints (3). The Bengals actually have seven games against teams ranked in the bottom nine of this ranking, which is a big plus for a team that needs an easy schedule to get nine-plus wins.
As for the starting lineups, here’s what this ESPN article came up with for the Bengals:
- QB Andy Dalton
- HB Giovani Bernard
- TE Tyler Eifert
- TE Tyler Kroft
- WR Tyler Boyd
- WR Brandon LaFell
- WR A.J. Green
- LT Cordy Glenn
- LG Clint Boling
- C Billy Price
- RG Trey Hopkins
- RT Jake Fisher
- DE Michael Johnson
- DT Geno Atkins
- DT Chris Baker
- DE Carlos Dunlap
- OLB Nick Vigil
- ILB Preston Brown
- OLB Vontaze Burfict
- CB Dre Kirkpatrick
- CB William Jackson
- CB Darqueze Dennard
- SS Shawn Williams
- FS George Iloka
No real surprises there. Trey Hopkins and Jake Fisher look like the early favorites to take over the right side, while Chris Baker looks poised to win that second defensive tackle spot next to Geno Atkins.
The only minor surprise was seeing Giovani Bernard starting over Joe Mixon. The latter is who the Bengals are ready to make the bellcow back moving forward, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start games off with a little Bernard before letting Mixon take over.