The Bengals as a franchise aren’t expected to be a playoff team in 2020, but there are a certainly a few positional groups that are among the league’s best.
Wide receiver, led by Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green and John Ross, is up there. Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon lead a top-tier backfield as well. But, one unit not mentioned enough for Cincinnati is defensive line.
With a few of the team’s best players, the line’s starters are already set as Sam Hubbard, D.J. Reader, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins will likely line the field on Week 1. That said, the unit was recently ranked the NFL’s tenth-best defensive line by Pro Football Focus.
“The Bengals’ defensive line remains anchored by the best players it has featured over the past decade — Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap — but the team does have some more interesting pieces in 2020. Atkins had his least effective season in 2019 since tearing his ACL back in 2014 and may be on the downswing in his great career. His 53 total pressures in 2019 were the fewest he has totaled in a season since 2014,” PFF’s Sam Monson explained.
“Sam Hubbard was more effective but had a massive 412 opportunities to rush the passer en route to 49 pressures. The depth on the defensive line has been an issue, and the Bengals would dearly love for one of their young players to take a big step forward and provide a consistent impact alongside the proven commodities they expect to be difference makers in 2020. Lawson and Hubbard have the clearest path to doing that, but players such as Renell Wren or rookie Khalid Kareem could force their way into contributing roles,” he continued.
Every AFC North team cracked the top 20 with the Pittsburgh Steelers ranked as the league’s best defensive line. For the Bengals, this unit will have a rare combination of experience and youth.
The dynamic former Buckeye Hubbard may take his game to another level in his third season while the addition of the league’s highest-paid nose tackle will also factor in to the play of the corps.
However, it’ll be Geno Atkins, the team’s best player, that runs the show in 2020. At 32, Atkins totaled 4.5 sacks in 2019. With Reader clogging up the middle, expect Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler, to again be one of the conference’s best pass-rushers this season.
He had ten quarterback hits, the second-worst of his career, in 2019. Potentially few double teams and more opportunities await Akins in 2020. Atkins’ energy will lead the unit, one that could be historically great for the Bengals.
With Hubbard, Reader and Dunlap by his side, it’ll arguably be the best line of the century for Cincinnati.