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Bengals Player Rankings: No. 4

The plan to rebuild the Bengals’ defense began with one massive move.

NFL: DEC 18 Jaguars at Texans Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the summer in full swing and NFL training camps less than two months away now, we gathered our Cincy Jungle staff to rank the top 25 Bengals of the 2020 season.

This ranking is simply who we believe are the 25 best Bengals heading into next season. It includes veterans and rookies alike, though it obviously is more favorable of players who’ve actually played snaps in the NFL, so don’t expect guys like Joe Burrow to be a top-five player right off the bat.

For a recap of the list, check out our stream here.

When will the Bengals do something meaningful in free agency? When will the Bengals give Geno Atkins the help he needs?

Two questions that have been lingering for years were both answered with one sweeping move this past March. The biggest free agent signing in Bengals history happened to also be one of the biggest signings in Bengals history.

No. 4: D.J. Reader, defensive tackle

This wasn’t normal. The Bengals have rarely ever went out of their way to find upgrades in free agency. Andrew Billings was still a free agent when the Bengals outbid the Denver Broncos for Reader’s services. Reader had been on Cincinnati’s radar for some time, but the news seemed to come out of nowhere.

It’d be one thing for the Bengals to throw $53 million at a washed up name, but that’s not Reader. The former fifth-round pick spent the last four years with the Houston Texans developing into one of the most dynamic interior defensive lineman in the NFL.

The balance of Reader’s production is interesting in itself. His 2,407 career defensive snaps are nearly split equally between rushing the passer and defending the run. In total, he has 98 pressures and 97 run stops. His pass rushing productivity saw a bump in 2019 when he reached the quarterback 14 times (three sacks, 11 hits). His previous career high was five in 2016 and 2017.

Reader’s immense size at 6-3 and reportedly about 330 pounds give the impression that he’s a nose tackle only. Last year, he only played 141 snaps as an A-gap defender, where nose tackles are aligned. He played over three times as many snaps as a B-gap defender, where under tackles and 3-techniques are aligned. Reader’s versatility was realized more and more as his Texans career persisted, and that versatility won’t go to waste with the Bengals.

There isn’t a spot between the edges that Reader can’t make an impact for the Bengals. He can hold his ground and push the pocket as a 5-technique, 3-technique, and 1-technique. The Bengals need significant snaps at all of those positions, especially if they want to give Atkins more in-game breaks and keep him fresh for the later portion of the season.

Billings is the player Reader will replace on the roster, but Reader is much more than the compensation of just one player. The Bengals have never had a force of this caliber to complement Atkins.

By their standards, they risked a lot to acquire him. When they look back on it, their return on investment will almost be as big as Reader.