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Early results back up Taylor, Harbaugh conclusions

According to PFF grades, Cincinnati Bengals are a pretty good team.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions
D.J. Reader
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The debate continues. Are the Cincinnati Bengals a good team, or is their record a product of the bad teams they have played to date?

Well, Sunday should provide a more clear picture when the Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North Division lead.

In the meantime, however, Pro Football Focus has recently graded every starter on the Bengals offense and defense. For the most part, the results are pretty impressive.

With the exception of four players — two on offense and two on defense — every Bengals starter has achieved an overall grade of at least 62.0, and several are rated among the league’s best at their respective positions.

“We’re a good team,” Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor said after the Bengals’ 34-11 win over the Lions last week. “We’re a resilient team. We’re a physical team, and we’re going to be a relentless team.”

That resiliency begins with quarterback Joe Burrow, the highest-rated player on the roster, according to PFF. Burrow achieved an overall score of 86.4, which has him slotted at No. 6 among the 33 quarterbacks who received ratings.

Next up is defensive tackle D.J. Reader, whose overall mark of 85.1 has him ranked 5th among 122 eligible defensive linemen. PFF tabbed Joe Mixon as the 4th best running back, in a field of 59, with a grade of 80.3.

Both the offense and defense have four more players with overall grades of at least 71.2.

Rookie Ja’Marr Chase leads the way with an overall grade of 78.4, which slots him at No. 12 among a field of 110 wide receivers. Tyler Boyd is rated 37th with a score of 72.5.

Cincinnati’s offensive line resurgence is led by left guard Quinton Spain, whose score of 75.1 places him 12th among 74 guards. Jonah Williams is one of the top tackles in the league, and his score of 72.8 ranks him 19th in a field of 79.

On defense, Chidobe Awuzie is making his mark as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, a true shutdown corner in the mold of Deion Sanders. PFF has graded Awuzie as the 5th best cornerback in the league with a score of 77.8.

Logan Wilson’s mark of 74.6 has him among the top 10 linebackers in the league, while Jessie Bates, III and Vonn Bell have quietly become one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Bell’s score of 72.5 is good for 11th best, while Bates comes in at No. 16 with an overall mark of 71.2.

“The whole team is one of the best teams in the National Football League right now, there’s no question about it,” Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said at his weekly press conference Monday. “Just watch ‘em play. They’ve done a great job across the board, in terms of how they’re playing this year.”

While many of the Bengals have exceeded expectations on offense, there are a few who are still struggling to hit their stride. Among them are wide receiver Tee Higgins, whose mark of 67.8 has him rated 58th at his position. Riley Reiff has put together an overall grade of 62.0, good for 49th, while T.J. Uzomah comes in at 62.1 and is the No. 34 tight end in a field of 68.

By far the most disappointing grade belongs to center Trey Hopkins, who has managed an overall grade of only 45.2, the third-worst mark among 35 centers in the NFL. Rookie right guard Jackson Carman graded out at 40.5, better than only two other guards. Trey Hill, despite a rough start against the Lions last Sunday, managed a score of 64.9.

On defense, Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt has been a pleasant surprise. His overall grade of 64.8 has him 21st among all linebackers. Akeem Davis-Gaither, on the other hand, has struggled and comes in at No. 45 with a score of 55.3.

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson, mainly on the strength of his porous run defense, finds himself in the middle of the pack with an overall grade of 67.3, while running mate Sam Hubbard’s score of 60.6 finds him ranked 77th in the field of 106.

Surprisingly, defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi has managed an overall grade of only 57.9, which puts him in 68th position. But by far the lowest graded Bengal defender is cornerback Eli Apple, whose score of 48.0 is better than only 15 other cornerbacks in the league.

While Cincinnati is greatly improved overall, there are still areas that need work. And you can bet those are the areas that the Ravens will challenge on Sunday.