Zac Taylor now has his first, 53-man roster in place. The final decisions that were made show that it is indeed a New Dey in Cincinnati, as Taylor constructed his roster very differently.
We learned a lot about the new regime as the team cut down to 53.
Here are 5 major takeaways.
1 - Draft slots don’t matter
In the past the Bengals have seemingly held on to their initial evaluation of a player, so even when a third-round pick wasn’t performing like a third-round pick should, he stuck around and got second and third chances. This appears to be different under Taylor.
The Bengals moved on from linebacker Malik Jefferson, who was a third-round pick just last year.
Evidence of this change is not only evident in their roster decisions, but on their depth chart. UDFA wide receiver Damion Willis has been named a Week 1 starter, getting the call overdrafted players like Josh Malone (4th round 2017) and Auden Tate (7th round 2018).
Malone, a fourth-round pick from the 2017 draft, was also cut to make room for Pharoh Cooper, a solid returner on special teams.
Draft value matters from a general manager’s standpoint, but not from that of the head coach. Teams must forget about where a player was drafted when making roster and depth chart decisions, and field the best team they can, regardless of how much draft capital was used to bring in a player.
2 - They are not taking risks with the practice squad
A pair of UDFAs in quarterback Jake Dolegala and offensive tackle O’Shea Dugas were two of the most surprising players to make the 53-man roster. Dugas was noted by PFF for having a strong preseason, and Dolegala certainly flashed in the last few weeks.
It seems highly likely that Dolegala would have cleared waivers, and Dugas probably would have as well. The Bengals could have tried to get both on the practice squad, but they weren’t willing to risk losing them to another team’s active roster now or later.
The Bengals have lost previously when they tried to stash players on the practice squad and other teams swooped in. It is good to see this aggressive approach to retaining and developing young talent.
3. Darrin Simmons may not have the pull that he once did
If Marvin Lewis was still in the building, Cody Core likely would have made this team due to his past contributions on special teams. Core was arguably the team’s best special teams player last year, but when he was forced to play on offense it was not a pretty sight.
Jefferson was not great at playing assignment football, but his effort and athletic ability made him a solid contributor on special teams and seemed likely to earn him a spot on the final roster.
The fact that neither of these players made the cut shows that Taylor is not willing to compromise on offense or defense for the sake of special teams. It also indicates that Simmons may not have as much control over the roster as he did in years past.
This combined with not taking risks with the practice squad makes me wonder what decision would have been made regarding kicker Jake Elliott if Taylor was here at the time.
4. They are not keeping players based on a predetermined number
The Bengals are going to be lean at linebacker, especially after they cut Hardy Nickerson to make room for Samaje Perine. Keeping only four backers is not crazy, especially due to the heavy use of substitution packages, which means NFL defenses really only have two starting linebackers. Still, some teams will have a set number at a position and may keep a player just because he is the best option.
The Bengals did not do that here. Maybe they will go out and make an addition, but for now, they kept who they wanted and only who they wanted.
5. Pass rush is king
The Bengals kept 11 defensive linemen including 6 defensive ends.
While rookie Renell Wren and Ryan Glasgow can get after the quarterback, Geno Atkins is the only true pass rusher at defensive tackle.
Andrew Brown and Kerry Wynn showed the ability to bump in to the defensive tackle position and rush the passer in the preseason and will see such action beside Atkins in the regular season as well. That trio along with Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, and Jordan Willis gives the Bengals a great rotation of pass rushers.
The Bengals have invested heavily in getting after the quarterback by keeping these 7 pass rushers. This could be a huge factor in improving the defense in 2019.