“The Big ‘If.’” It’s essentially the credo of the 2019 Cincinnati Bengals.
In lieu of going big in outside free agency and making splashy trade-ups in the early rounds of the draft, the Bengals have largely stuck to their M.O. of the past decade or so. In sticking to that strategy, they are confident in their belief that they have one of the strongest rosters in the NFL—if they remain healthy.
While the team did end up being a house of cards last year, one can’t simply deny the 4-1 start to the season and subsequent slew of injuries to important players. If critical rookies and veteran Pro Bowlers remained far more healthy than what occurred in reality, the team may have been able to sniff a Wild Card berth.
Stranger things have happened, right?
Regardless of your belief in that sentiment, the team is sticking to their “if we’re healthy in 2019, look out” guns. And, one of the most critical areas of this strategy resides in the returns of many players coming off of Injured Reserve.
On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, John Sheeran and I discussed the most important players returning from the NFL’s version of medical purgatory. Of course, we both agreed that, despite the polarizing opinions on Andy Dalton, getting a starting quarterback who has made both Pro Bowls and the postseason to return to the lineup is critical.
However, looking beyond him (especially in some of the players who help prop him up), there are massively-critical players set to come back to the lineup after suffering devastating injuries. Let’s review.
Andy Dalton, quarterback: We just talked about it above, so we won’t belabor the point, but the guy has had success in the league. When he and others around him are healthy and playing at decent levels, good things happen for this team.
A.J. Green, wide receiver: Some could argue that Green’s return is more important than Dalton’s because of his being such a security blanket for No. 14. Even though Tyler Boyd stepped up in a great way last year (and even a bit prior to Green leaving the lineup), the offense just isn’t the same without No. 18.
Aside from Dalton, John’s pick for the most important I.R. returner was Green. It may be the most obvious choice, but also one that could be the most accurate.
Tyler Eifert, tight end: It’s so difficult to use the term “rely upon” and the name Tyler Eifert in the same sentence. Though, as is the case with Green, the Bengals’ offense is far less effective without their big tight end in the lineup.
Personally-speaking, Eifert was my choice on the show outside of the quarterback. His presence in the red zone and much higher catch percentage with Dalton over that of Green’s (though in much fewer attempts) shows how much more comfortable Cincinnati’s quarterback is when No. 85 is working the middle of the field.
Tyler Boyd, wide receiver: This one may be a bit of a stretch because the team had Boyd healthy for most of the year. Even so, he’ll be relied on heavily this year because of a combination of his upward career arc/youth, the uncertainty that follows Eifert and the question marks behind him in the position group.
Carl Lawson, defensive end: Though he only notched one sack in seven games last year, Lawson constantly pressured quarterbacks and was oh-so-close on other opportunities. He’s aiming for a Week 1 return and with both Michael Johnson gone and Jordan Willis underwhelming in his own career, Lawson might be poised for a big role upon his return from a torn ACL.
Ryan Glasgow, defensive lineman: This oft-forgotten lineman was a quiet key to what the defense was able to do in the first few weeks of the season. As a rotational guy, Glasgow was disruptive, notching 11 tackles in just three games. Geno Atkins is getting up there in age, so having a healthy spot guy would help the defense immensely.
Who is the most important player coming back from I.R. for the Bengals in 2019?
This poll is closed
Also on this week’s OBI episode:
- With the news that the Hall of Fame committee may expand the amount of senior members for its 100th anniversary in 2020, will we finally see Ken Anderson and Ken Riley get a call to Canton?
- If Anderson and/or Riley end up getting enshrined, will that raise awareness for other worthy Bengals candidates from more recent generations?
- Are Geno Atkins and A.J. Green current locks for the Hall of Fame?
- John and Anthony also continue with their “Potential Breakout Players” list.
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