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D.J. Reader is the biggest unsung hero on the Bengals defense

Reader makes the whole defense work on another level

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has put together some great defenses so far in his time with the team. His defensive schemes have helped utilize the strengths of his players and limit some of their weaknesses, which has led to two consecutive AFC Championship appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl.

The Bengals' secondary is full of talented players. Linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are one of the best duos in the NFL, and the defensive line has some talented edge rushers, including rookie Myles Murphy and veterans Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. The middle of the defensive line has B.J. Hill and a player many consider to be one of the best nose tackles in the league.

D.J. Reader

Height: 6-3

Weight: 335 lbs.

Age: 29

College: Clemson

Hometown: Greensboro, NC

Experience: 7 years

Cap Status

Reader signed with the Bengals as a free agent before the 2020 season to a four-year $53 million contract that included $20.25 million guaranteed at signing. His $15.521 million cap hit is the largest on the team heading into the 2023 season and represents 6.85% of the team’s total salary cap.

He is heading into the final year of his contract and is set to hit free agency before the 2024 season. He has been an incredible asset, especially against the run, in the middle of the line, and despite his age, he would be a solid player to extend. Spotrac predicts his contract would be somewhere in the vicinity of three years for $47 million.


Reader was selected out of Clemson in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft with the No. 166 overall pick by the Houston Texans. He started seven games in his rookie year before officially taking over the nose tackle position for Vince Wilfork after his retirement in 2017. Over his first four years with the Texans, he made 81 tackles and 6.5 sacks, but that barely scratches the surface of what Reader brings to a defense.

Reader is a run-stopping specialist. He absolutely excels at shutting running backs down from the middle of the line. His PPF run defense grade was 65.2 his rookie year and gradually increased every year until he got to 85.1 in his fourth and final year with the Texans.

Future Hall of Fame defensive end J.J. Watt commented after Reader left Houston for Cincinnati that his former teammate doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings to a defense.

“He’s the best, I love D.J.,” Watt said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. He works extremely hard. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He has a grinder’s job, literally his job is to take on double teams and block up that middle so everybody else can make plays, and he still makes plays.”

We’ve seen him do it in Cincinnati too. After missing the majority of the 2020 season with a quad injury, Reader cemented himself as one of the best nose tackles and biggest unsung heroes in the NFL. He absolutely shut down the run game of multiple opponents, all while taking on double teams.

Just watch him against Derek Henry, one of the best running backs in the league.

Outlook for 2023 season

Reader is primed to have another great season in 2023. This is a contract season for him, so I expect a possible career year for Reader, similar to his last year in Houston before coming to Cincinnati.

Reader, while certainly not old, isn’t a spring chicken when it comes to NFL defensive linemen. Thankfully, the Bengals have guys like Josh Tupou and Jay Tufele who can give the Bengals good reps when Reader is out.

Reader logged 528 snaps on the defensive line in 2022, as he missed a few games in the middle of the season with a knee injury. In 2023, he’ll likely be back to his 700-to-800 snap count so long as he’s healthy.

In 2022, Reader was the seventh-ranked defensive tackle in the NFL with an overall PFF defensive grade of 85.2, making him one of the truly elite defensive linemen in the league. If he can maintain that level of play, and there’s no reason to think he can’t, the Bengals' defense will again be one of the best in the league under the tutelage of Anarumo and, hopefully, help the Bengals win their first-ever Super Bowl.

Roster Odds: 100%