The Bengals are doing something they haven’t done in 16 seasons, which is changing head coaches. Zac Taylor is taking over for Marvin Lewis and we should be expecting some drastic game plan changes with not as much changes to the philosophy of building the team through the draft.
Those two ideas could lead to some struggles early on. That idea has led to ESPN analyst Field Yates to predict the Bengals to be selecting first in the 2020 draft:
Cincinnati could find itself in a quarterback transition phase, and the defense has glaring holes. Patience shouldn’t be a problem for Zac Taylor, as the Bengals just showed as much with Marvin Lewis to try to get over the top. Now, with Taylor in town, the Bengals should face an honest reality about their franchise trajectory and allow him the time to build things back up.
Let's start by touching on the major issues Yates has as to why the Bengals could be in this position. First, the quarterback transition could be a real thing. Taylor has voiced his support for Andy Dalton since being hired, but really we shouldn’t expect him to not attempt to bring in competition at the position at the very least. He has no investment in Dalton as he was drafted by the former regime. He could commit to Dalton, or he could just as easily move on, that is the reality of a new head coach, and if Taylor does decide to make a move it could very well impact Cincinnati’s immediate success.
The glaring holes on the defensive side pretty mostly stems from the linebacker position. It has become increasingly more likely that Cincinnati could move on from Vontaze Burfict as he was suspended yet again last season as well as suffering his seventh officially recorded concussion in the NFL. That has to be a position the Bengals focus on improving otherwise they could be in real trouble yet again defensively. Adding a couple more pass-rushers should be a priority as well.
The state of the AFC North is an underrated factor in this as well. The Bengals are coming off a season where they only won a single game against the division. Cleveland is clearly trending up after Baker Mayfield had a successful rookie campaign, and the Ravens finished the season strong with an incredible defense and Lamar Jackson taking over as the starter. Pittsburgh remains a wild card as they are dealing with their two best players (Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown) both wanting to skip town, and if they are successful it could be between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for the bottom of the division.
The Bengals can elevate themselves back into the AFC North conversation by evolving their team-building process, but we shouldn’t expect the Bengals to go out like the Rams did and start being major players in free agency or forking over draft selections for veteran players. That was a huge reason for the instant success Taylor saw first hand in Los Angeles, but that isn’t how Cincinnati approaches things.
We could see Taylor come in and get the most out of this talent, but if they aren’t able to plug all the holes in this team via the draft and mid to low level free agents, then we could see an instance where Taylor doesn’t have the means to fully realize his vision, yet.
Taylor obviously won’t be a one-and-done coach if Mike Browns’ history of head coaches has any say in it. We could see this team build a few seasons through the draft before we have a real idea as to what Taylor is really capable of. Of course we could see Taylor’s new ideas come in and reinvigorate a roster that may have been held back by the previous coaching staff.