The nature of the NFL offseason is that every team improves. And all that progress on paper doesn’t matter until the games begin.
Over the last several months, the Cincinnati Bengals have done plenty of work overhauling their roster after another disappointing season. They’ve got multiple new starters on the offensive line, a completely refreshed defensive line and cornerbacks room, and have continued loading up on weapons for Joe Burrow.
All of this was necessary after finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league last year. Pro Football Focus recognizes the efforts Cincinnati has made thus far, but in their latest league-wide roster rankings, the Bengals come in at a modest 24th ranking.
To no one’s surprise, Burrow and his receiving corps make up their biggest strength, per PFF analyst Ben Linsey, and the offensive line is their greatest liability heading into the season. According to Linsey, the X factors to watch for are the respective returns of D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes.
Cincinnati handed out sizable offseason contracts to both D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes last offseason. The two combined for 259 defensive snaps (all by Reader) due to injury. Reader took a clear step forward in his career with Houston in 2019 (85.4 PFF grade), and Waynes earned overall grades of at least 66.0 in each of his final three seasons with the Vikings — a solid mark at the cornerback position. Healthy returns for those two veterans should bring a steadying presence to this defense.
There’s palpable confidence that despite a questionable offensive line, Burrow and the offense will be able to put up points. On the other side of the ball, preventing points has been a struggle for Cincinnati over the last few years. Reader and Waynes are being paid like high-quality starters, and just getting them on the field together for the first time will be a huge boost.
It would’ve been tough for the Bengals to climb even further up these rankings after just one offseason. Their roster was in terrible shape to close out 2020, and despite their best efforts, questions remain aplenty with this group.
But the NFL is the king of parity, and the status quo can change very quickly. If things start to click under Zac Taylor, this roster can put together some meaningful wins and garner much more respect.