After finishing two consecutive seasons outside of the playoffs, the Bengals have a lot of work to do to get back. The team has addressed some of their issues through free agency and the draft, but questions still remain.
For the Bengals to succeed in 2018, these five players really need to step up.
1. Jake Fisher
The Bengals need someone to step up at the right tackle position and Fisher seems like the only real candidate. Fisher has played well at times, but his play has been inconsistent. To make things worse his 2017 season ended early due to an irregular heartbeat that required surgery. He has been cleared to play and will need to step up for the Bengals’ offense to get the full value out of its plethora of talented skill players. After two
2. Trey Hopkins or Christian Westerman
Right guard is another position where someone needs to step up. Hopkins was last year’s starter, but his play left something to be desired. 2017 was his first year as a starter, and particularly with a new position coach, Hopkins could take a leap. Westerman showed promise in limited playing time last year. The Bengals need one of these two to pick up their game.
3. Dre Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick’s career had a bit of a slow start, but he had a great year in 2016. Unfortunately, he took a step back in 2017. A lot of attention has been played to the coaching changes on offense, but the addition of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and secondary/cornerbacks coach Daronte Jones could have a major impact on Kirkpatrick. As William Jackson III establishes himself as one of the top corners in the league, more pressure will be on Kirkpatrick. He needs to step up for the Bengals to succeed in 2018.
4. Nick Vigil
Vigil was a first-year starter in 2017 and played poorly for far too much of the season. He needs to continue to improve after showing some nice promise as a rookie in 2016. Outside of Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals have not had a linebacker in recent years who could have a make a major impact on the outcome of the game. Vigil needs to step up and be the playmaker that the defense needs in Burfict’s absence to start the season.
5. Joe Mixon
If #1 and #2 pan out, then this one should be easy. Mixon started seven games last year, rushing for 626 yards and four touchdowns and caught 30 passes for 287 yards. Now that he is slated to be the full-time starter, Mixon needs to be one of the top young running backs in the league. He has the talent and will have the opportunity in 2018. If the offensive line can improve, Mixon should have a breakout year.