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ESPN ranks Bengals’ core second in NFL going into the 2023 season

It is hard to argue that the Bengals haven’t put together one of the best foundations in the NFL.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

The best part about being a Cincinnati Bengals fan these days is the knowledge that the foundation of this team is one of the best you can find in the NFL.

This team is talented beyond having the best quarterback and wide receiving corp combination. Even if that is their biggest reason for success.

That was confirmed again recently when ESPN analyst Seth Walder ranked the Bengals core as the second best in the NFL.

Roster core: QB Joe Burrow, WR Ja’Marr Chase, WR Tee Higgins, DE Trey Hendrickson, OT Orlando Brown Jr.

Burrow isn’t the second-best quarterback on this list, but an exceptional 1-2 punch at receiver, a high-end pass-rusher and a strong offensive tackle boosts the Bengals to first in the non-Mahomes division. Of the group, Hendrickson is perhaps most overlooked but is very deserving to be here, ranking fourth in pass rush win rate among edge rushers last season.

Most people consider Cincinnati a contender because of Burrow, Chase, and Higgins. Obviously, for a great reason. However, this team wouldn’t have gotten to where they have the past couple of seasons without a few other foundational pieces. Hendrickson is one that remains who is definitely worthy of mention, as he often goes under the radar as far as talented edge rushers go.

The addition of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. this off-season also filled a gap left by losing safety Jessie Bates in free agency, and it is at a position that had actually been holding back most of what the Bengals had built to become a contender around Burrow, His presence will also hopefully open up more frequent running lanes for running back Joe Mixon who you could easily argue to be included here as well.

This article also illustrated how young the Bengals’ core is when compared to some of the other top teams. They have an average age of 25.6. No other team in the top 10 even gets below 26. You have to go to No. 12 with the Jacksonville Jaguars to find the first team that has a younger core.

That age is a bit of a double-edged sword, though. Most of the guys listed are going to be in need of market-resetting deals at their position in the coming years. That is going to call for a bit of a philosophy change as Cincinnati built a defense around spending in free agency the last few off-seasons since Zac Taylor became head coach. However, we have already seen them attempt to prepare for that, with players like safety Daxton Hill and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt set to enter the seasons as starters. They have also drafted players like pass rusher Myles Murphy, cornerback DJ Turner and safety Jordan Battle. All three of those guys were taken with early selections and should be earning snaps sooner rather than later.

The Bengals can keep this window propped open for quite a few seasons. There is a very good chance they will end up having the longest window of most of the teams in the top 10, but the question, for now, will be if they can start finishing the job. The team has already done a great job of planning to build around the foundation. We just have to see if it can stand up to the weathering of the NFL moving forward.