We all know the big names who have a major impact on this team’s success, but who could make a surprisingly large contribution to push this team to the next level?
Irv Smith Jr
This team hasn’t had a tight end who was this kind of threat in the passing game since Tyler Eifert.
Irv Smith Jr. is a dynamic talent who could really take this offense up a notch. He has excellent ball skills and is a true vertical threat. If he can perform to his talent level, he will make this offense even more dangerous.
Joseph Ossai and Myles Murphy
It is a bit cliché to say, “You can never have too many pass rushers,” but like many clichés, it is also a fact.
Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson are an extremely talented pair of defensive ends, but they take too many snaps.
Joseph Ossai showed some excellent pass-rush skills last year and needs to have an increased role in year two. He will likely come in to spell Hubbard from time to time. particularly on passing downs, since stopping the run is Hubbard’s strength. This also gives defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo the ability to bump Hubbard inside for increased speed.
Stopping the run is 2023 first-round pick Myles Murphy’s strength. He will likely come in for Hendrickson on early downs, saving Hendrickson’s energy for pass-rush situations.
Ossai and Murphy’s impact will reach past their own production and help Hubbard and Hendrickson take their game to the next level.
Of course, there is another problem on the defensive line and another young player who could be the solution.
Overall the team saw a big drop off in sack production last season. Hendrickson actually had six fewer sacks in 2022 than he did in 2021, but there was also a drop-off on the interior. Larry Ogunjobi had seven sacks in 2021. In his absence last season, all of the interior defensive linemen on the team combined for 5.5.
Zach Carter accounted for a mere 0.5 of those sacks, but the second-year player may be ready for a breakout in year two.
Carter had 7.5 sacks during his final season at Florida. He played mostly on the edge for the Gators, so last year, he was learning the ropes as a full-time defensive tackle. Carter saw somewhat limited action last season but showed progress as the season went on. At 290, he is lighter than the standard Bengals defensive tackle, but he moves very well and is excellent at stunts and twists. He projects as a rotational tackle who can spell Hill on passing downs and generate more pressure.
Interior pressure prevents the quarterback from being able to step up into the pocket to escape the edge rush, so generating more interior pressure will lead to more sacks for Hubbard and Hendrickson as well.
If he develops, Carter could make this defense elite in 2023.
I feel confident that Nick Scott and Dax Hill will be the starting safeties in 2023, but that doesn’t mean that rookie Jordan Battle can’t play an important role.
Hill will primarily serve as the deep field safety, but he is incredibly versatile, Battle could be the key to unlocking the versatility. If Battle can prove himself capable, that will give Anarumo the ability to use Hill in creative ways in certain packages. This could include using him as a second slot corner or to cover tight ends man-to-man, among other things.
They could also leave both Scott and Hill deep and utilize Battle as essentially a faster linebacker since his strength is playing in the box.
“Glass-eaters” are what offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Frank Pollack said he wanted on the offensive line a year ago, a slogan that Bengals fans got on board with immediately.
“Fear of God” is this year’s “Glass-eaters.”
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons said they needed a returner who could put the “Fear of God” in opposing teams.
That might just be rookie wideout Charlie Jones.
Jones is the heir apparent to Tyler Boyd as the team’s slot receiver, but we probably won’t see a whole lot of him on offense this season. He could, however, make a dramatic effect as the team’s punt returner.
First, he will need to earn Simmons’s trust, as muffed punts are one of the top fears* of special teams coordinators. If he can do that, he could have a major impact this season, setting the offense up with great field position and maybe even putting one or two in the end zone himself.
*The top five fears of special teams coordinators are as follows: 1.) Muffed Punts, 2.) Blocked Punts, 3.) Giving up a Touchdown on a Kick or Punt Return, 4.) Snakes, and 5.) an In-Game Injury to a Specialist.