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Who can step up and fill the void left behind by DJ Reader?

Reader leaves behind some big shoes. Here’s who could try to fill them.

The Cincinnati Bengals lost quite possibly the most important defensive player on the team when DJ Reader was carted off the field. His presence in the middle clogs everything up for the offense, allowing guys like Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt to play more freely.

The defense, despite all of Lou Anarumo’s cunning, will not be the same without him.

Having said that, good teams roll with the punches, and even though this was a huge punch, the team has to adopt a next-man-up mentality.

The question is this: Who is the next man?

Here are some possibilities:

Josh Tupou

Tupou is the obvious answer and has already replaced Reader as the starting nose tackle atop the depth chart. Tupou joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2017. His 6-foot-3, 340-pound frame allows him to eat up a lot of space in the middle of the line.

PFF has given Tupou an overall defensive grade of 54.2 (51.1 against the run and 59.3 as a pass rusher) over 222 snaps.

Jay Tufele

Tufele is right behind Tupou on the depth chart at nose tackle. He’s not quite as big as Tupou, standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 305 pounds. He was a fourth-round pick out of USC by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021 but was claimed off waivers before the 2022 season.

Last year, Tufele played in seven games during the regular season, starting two of them for Reader, and played in the Bengals’ AFC Wildcard win over the Ravens. He has an overall defensive grade of 34.8 (34.4 against the run and 52.8 as a pass rusher) on 54 snaps. He also hasn’t played since Week 11.

Domenique Davis

Davis is big. He’s 6-foot-2 and 326 pounds. He was signed by the Jets as a college free agent after the draft in 2020, but he didn’t make the team and joined the USFL’s Houston Gamblers. He was signed in the offseason and showed some flashes in the preseason.

Over 107 snaps this preseason, he received an overall grade of 57.5 (45.2 run defense and 75.7 pass rush). It would be much more difficult for Davis to fill in for Reader, considering he hasn’t played since August, and it would take a lot to get up to game speed. However, stranger things have happened.

Zach Carter

Carter was the team’s third-round pick out of Florida in 2022. Through the 2022 and ‘23 seasons, Carter has shown flashes. He plays the vast majority of his snaps in a similar alignment as Reader, but most of his snaps have been as a pass rusher.

PFF currently has Carer with a 58.9 defensive grade, a 59.8 run defense grade, and a 55.5 pass-rushing mark.

Carter is a little smaller than Tupou, Tufele, and Davis, but he is a quicker and faster athlete than all of them (except Davis), according to their RAS scores (if you’re into that kind of thing). I expect Carter to get more playing time for sure, but not as a three-down nose tackle.