Heading into the 2023 NFL season, the Cincinnati Bengals have filled out their roster with the free agents they’ve signed and the eight rookies they selected in the recent draft. While the roster still has to take shape, and there will likely be more additions once camp starts, the team is primed to push for another deep playoff run in hopes of winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Two players that will be instrumental in the team’s success this season are the Bengals’ starting defensive tackles, DJ Reader and B.J. Hill. Pro Football Focus recently ranked the top 32 defensive tackles in the NFL, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that both of the Bengals’ interior defensive linemen ended up on the list.
First on the list was Reader, who placed in the top 10 as the No. 9 ranked defensive tackle in the NFL.
“Reader plays a vital role in Lou Anarumo’s defense, highlighted by his 85.2 PFF grade in 2022,” PFF’s Gordon McGuinness wrote. “As a run defender, he has earned grades of 69.0 or better since 2017. He produced a career-high 84.1 PFF pass-rush grade in 2022, registering 32 pressures from 310 pass-rushing snaps.”
Reader has been one of the most productive free agents the Bengals have ever signed and has been worth every penny of his four-year $53 million contract. If you have doubts, watch the Bengals play against the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round of the 2021 season playoffs. The Bengals won that game, and moved on to the AFC Championship game, partially because Reader was instrumental in shutting down Titans running back Derrick Henry.
Reader is entering the last year of his contract and will be a free agent heading into the 2024 season. So much has been made about the coming extension for quarterback Joe Burrow as well as potential extensions for wide receiver Tee Higgins and linebacker Logan Wilson, but we haven’t talked much about keeping Reader in Cincinnati. Considering how he’s been a linchpin for Lou Anarumo’s front seven, keeping Reader in Cincinnati for another couple of years would be vital for future success.
Hill made the list as well, coming in as PFF’s 30th-ranked defensive tackle.
“Hill was another smart free agency addition by the Bengals, a good all-around player on the interior of their defensive line,” McGuinness wrote. “Through five seasons in the league, he has never finished with a PFF run-defense grade lower than 65.0. He is coming off a 2022 campaign in which he set a career-high with 45 total pressures from 615 pass-rushing snaps.”
Hill was acquired via a trade with the New York Giants in August 2021 for center Billy Price. Considering what the Bengals got from Hill and that Price is now a free agent and has bounced around the league, landing with the Raiders and Cardinals after he didn’t work out with the Giants, this trade was highway robbery. Hill was re-signed heading into the 2022 season to a three-year deal worth $30 million, and, like Reader, has been worth every penny.
Here’s one of his most impactful plays, which took place against the Chiefs in the 2021 AFC Championship game.
The “rock the baby” celebration is, and always will be, one of my all-time favorites.
Do you think Reader and Hill were ranked correctly by PFF, or do you think they should be higher or lower on the list?