When it comes to the middle rounds of the NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals often look for trench players with upside. As it goes with the defensive side of the line in those rounds, names like Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims have been some of the great gets in the third and fourth rounds.
There has also been a slew of “what-could-have-beens” in the forms of Brandon Thompson, Marcus Hardison, Renell Wren, and Andrew Billings. The Bengals went for a productive guy in the SEC with Florida’s Zachary Carter in the third round last year, hoping he lumps himself in the former category of defensive linemen over the latter.
He flashed late last year, but the Bengals showed a high level of faith in their 2022 draft investment by not bringing in much competition for the backup three-technique spot. One of the quieter keys to the Bengals’ renaissance in 2021 was the elite interior lineman rotation of Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hill.
The two combined for 12.5 sacks and 18 total tackles for loss in the team’s Super Bowl run. Ogunjobi broke his ankle in the team’s iconic win over the Raiders in the Wild Card that year, and have scrambled to recreate the production from the two since.
Why he could break out in 2023
Almost every year, we hear about a young player hitting the weight room in a big way in an effort to gain traction in their continuing quest for NFL acclimation. Sometimes we see it work out incredibly well for players, while others continue to wallow in positional limbo.
One of the primary reasons we believe Carter could break out for the Bengals is in his commitment to the interior line position. What do we mean by that, exactly?
Recent reports have Carter putting on roughly 20 pounds of muscle from last year. It would appear that he is seizing the opportunity to be a heavy rotator behind Hill—be it from his own observations, pushing from the staff, or both.
Additionally, Carter showed flashes late in the year. He had respectable PFF scores, with the overall numbers ranging from the 60s and into the 80s (Patriots) from the end of the regular season and into the postseason.
What he needs to prove this year
Consistency. As with any young player making that ultra-tough transition from college to the pros, a focused approach is needed from Carter in year two. Thankfully, it appears as if he’s embraced that facet.
Part of “consistency” will come with the ability to get pressure from the interior. Carter had 12.5 sacks in his final two years with the Gators, with pressure coming from differing spots on the line.
In the surge late last year, some of Carter’s better plays came from him “setting the edge” and racking up stuffed runs. The hope with the added weight is that it will allow him to anchor in the run game and build off of learned experiences last year.
Match that with the pass-rushing prowess he flashed at Florida, and Lou Anarumo has to hope he’s got the reincarnation of the interior defensive line duo from a couple of years ago. And, if coach Lou’s dreams come to fruition, this defense will have gotten much more lethal.
Cincinnati’s defensive unit has a lot of rotational potential. Sam Hubbard, Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, and Hill will get a large amount of big plays. The issue is that they’ve taken a huge amount of snaps the past couple of years, and we’ve seen signs of fatigue the past two postseasons—particularly with seven additional games being played in 2021 and 2022.
Based on the statement above, effectiveness from Carter and trust in his consistency with the snaps given could make Hill more effective. For reference, Hill had a 47% percent snap share in 2021 (502), but a 79% share in 2022 (816). Hill had 5.5 sacks in 2021 and 3.0 last year, with two more tackles for loss in 2021 than 2022.
The snap relief is something that the veterans on the defensive line need. Hill needs a stable rotator and the Bengals are pegging Carter for that job. He, Joseph Ossai, Myles Murphy, Jay Tufele and Josh Tupou are all quiet keys to team success in 2023.
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