We are getting to that point in the offseason where preseason power rankings are going to become more common. There are still several decent free agents left to shakeup the NFL landscape, but overall rosters are basically set for training camp (whenever that will actually happen).
It will be no surprise to see the Bengals — who only managed two wins last season — ranked near the bottom of many of these lists. There is just too much of it based off of last season, and there is still the matter of first overall pick Joe Burrow being a rookie in these extraordinary circumstances.
There is one analyst who sees the plan at work, though. NBC Sports’ Peter King thinks Cincinnati is the worst team going into next season. In fact, he doesn’t even have them ranked in the bottom five teams going into the 2020 season. He has them as the sixth worst team (27th) in his most recent power ranking.
When the Bengals released Andy Dalton in late April, it was one of the great shows of confidence in a draft choice in recent years. Think of it. The pandemic could force teams into scramble mode before the season; will training camp exist in any sort of normal way, and regardless, will Burrow be able to throw to any of his receivers before August? I’m probably too smitten with Burrow—coming off his 60-touchdown season last fall (which by the way was not an Arena League season) at LSU—but a confident and strong-willed quarterback can do a lot for a franchise. Burrow needs to form early bonds with A.J. Green, the underrated Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins (6-4, 6-1 and 6-4), and the burner John Ross, for whom 2020 is Last Chance Saloon; the former ninth pick in the draft will be a free agent after the season. But at least Burrow should get Ross’ best. That is potentially a heck of a receiver group if Green, who has missed 6, 0, 7, and 16 games the last four seasons, can stay on the field for any length of time.
The Bengals needed to get much better on defense and did okay in free agency, adding a rock in the middle of the line, tackle D.J. Reader, play-making safety Von Bell and Vikings corners Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander—though, per PFF, Waynes and Alexander surrendered 71 percent completions combined last year. So many ifs in Cincinnati, and a single player can’t fix it all. But Burrow’s will should push the Cincinnati culture north.
This is a pretty level headed review of what the Bengals did this offseason for an article that can’t go into enormous detail about each team’s offseason. Obviously, Cincinnati will go as far as Burrow takes them for as long as he is a Bengal. In his rookie season, it is hard to expect Burrow to really push this team that far early. We will likely see plenty of ups and downs given that he will be adjusting to new offensive weapons and the speed of the NFL. It is still hard to say that this team shouldn’t feel that much more comfortable going into every game.
King highlights the wide receiving group as a reason for optimism, and that is great. It feels like on a national level that gets over looked. There is obviously some big ifs with Green and Ross, but Burrow should be able to get more out of those two once they all get on the same page.
He also talks about the defense, which may be the most surprising part of this entire offseason. They went out and really spent when they added free agents, and Reader should go a long way to correcting their struggles defending the run.
Some things that King didn’t have a chance to touch on? The Bengals offensive line actually became average during the second half of the season, and the weakest link — left tackle — will be filled by first round pick Jonah Williams.
Combine that with running back Joe Mixon looking like he really hit his stride at the same time, and that gives the Bengals a way to not have to lean on Burrow to have to play superman for his entire rookie season.
The defense got a lot better in free agency, but the radical change to the linebackers may have the biggest impact next season. Obviously most of these guys are young like Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaithers and Markus Bailey, but they provide that athletic ability that was really missing last season (outside of Pratt).
There were times where it was embarrassing trying to watch Nick Vigil or Preston Brown (before he was cut) trying to make plays in open space. These guys at least have the capacity to make those plays. Until they all have their NFL legs under them, Josh Bynes will be more than serviceable.
King has the Bengals ahead of the Jets, Panthers, Giants, Washington and Jaguars. At this point, you could probably order those teams however you like. His placement Cincinnati is a great sign of optimism, but it will be even better when Burrow has this team earning legitimately high ranks.