Aside from a low-profile veteran free agent signing here or there, the Cincinnati Bengals are charging towards training camp with their roster largely formatted. Last weekend, the team used all 11 of its picks to both fortify weak spots and gain some additional explosiveness in other areas of strength.
While we at Cincy Jungle have been largely positive about the offseason results so far, the national opinions on what the team has done and what the 2018 outlook looks like aren’t as rosy. When we look at the rundown of the offseason—one where the team has been a bit more proactive than usual—it may be hard for some to deduce just how much higher the ceiling has been pushed following two straight losing seasons.
Let’s take a look at what has transpired over the past couple of months with the club.
In terms of the team’s coaching ranks, it was an odd start to the offseason. Marvin Lewis re-joined the club as head coach, which was met with mixed results (to put it positively), but he signed a two-year contract, regardless.
Even though his return didn’t breed confidence amongst the fan base, other moves definitely did. Frank Pollack is taking over the offensive line, while Teryl Austin takes over defensive coordinator duties. Other assistants were also replaced, giving the Bengals at least a quasi-new-look.
Even though many believe a winless postseason status quo could take place with Lewis’ return, optimism is running through the club with the underling additions.
The biggest positional needs this offseason and how the Bengals have addressed them:
Linebacker: Preston Brown (free agency, one-year deal), Malik Jefferson (third round pick)
Backup quarterback: Matt Barkley (free agency, two-year deal), Logan Woodside (seventh round pick)
Defensive tackle: Chris Baker (free agency, one-year deal), Andrew Brown (fifth round pick)
Defensive end: Sam Hubbard (third round pick)
Running back: Mark Walton (fourth round pick)
Center: Billy Price (first round pick)
Offensive tackle: Bobby Hart (free agency, one-year deal), Cordy Glenn (trade, three years left on deal)
Secondary: Darius Phillips (fifth round pick), Davontae Harris (fifth round pick), Jessie Bates III (second round pick)
Tight end: Tyler Eifert (free agency, one-year deal)
Offensive guard: Rod Taylor (seventh round pick), Bobby Hart (also listed as a guard)
Special teams: Kevin Huber (three-year deal)
Losses/unsigned: Russell Bodine (center, Bills), Jeremy Hill (running back, Patriots), Chris Smith (defensive end, Browns), Adam Jones (cornerback/special teams), Kevin Minter (linebacker), Pat Sims (defensive tackle), AJ McCarron (quarterback, Bills), Cedric Peerman (running back/special teams), Andre Smith (offensive line, Cardinals), Eric Winston (offensive line)
Grades and opinions on the team’s 11 draft picks:
In recent years, we’ve been spoiled, in terms of hearing just how great of a job the Bengals did during the draft. This largely hinged upon their “best player available” strategy, which was cute when the team was in the middle of five straight playoff seasons.
The 2018 draft was different for a lot of reasons, though. It was a “meat and potatoes” kind of class, filled with more needs than usual. Sure, some may view players like Bates and Walton as luxury type of picks, but if Lewis can get out of his own philosophical way, they will get playing time in varying capacities in 2018.
For the draft analysts close to the Bengals in the form of Joe Goodberry, Cody Tewmey and Cincy Jungle’s own John Sheeran, it would appear that the Bengals’ class was in the “B” range. Solid, but not necessarily spectacular. However, what about the national landscape?
NFL.com: B (Nick Shook)
SB Nation: B+ (Dan Kadar)
Bleacher Report: A- (Ian Wharton)
Walter Football: B+, B+, A+, C first four picks
CBS Sports: C (Pete Prisco)
Sports Illustrated: A- (Andy Benoit)
USA Today DraftWire: A (Luke Easterling)
ESPN: B (Mel Kiper, Jr.)
Cincy Jungle fan poll: B (61% majority)
Snapshot of teams on the 2018 schedule and their additions:
When looking at the teams within the division, the draft classes of both the Ravens and Browns are interesting. Baltimore added four offensive players in their first four picks, including two pass-catching tight ends and quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Obviously, there isn’t anywhere to go but up for Cleveland, following an 0-16 season. We’ll see if Baker Mayfield ends the near-30-starting-quarterback streak since 1999, but Nick Chubb is a nice addition to a team who has had a multitude of promising high picks of late.
The Steelers’ draft has a couple of questionable picks and they traded away troubled, albeit talented receiver Martavis Bryant, but Pittsburgh is always Pittsburgh. It’s always a tough road through the AFC North.
Denver is on the schedule once again and they not only have shored up quarterback with Case Keenum, but added to their already-stout defense with Bradley Chubb at No. 5 overall. Cincinnati faces the entire formidable AFC West, as well as the explosive NFC South this year, making the schedule daunting, regardless of the Bengals’ additions this offseason.
Varying early opinions on the 2018 season:
Even with the relatively-high marks on the draft from last weekend, many pundits are picking the Bengals to have another mediocre, if not disastrously poor season in 2018. Given the additions in free agency and the draft, it seems a bit odd.
Sure, the team went with solid over spectacular this offseason, but last year’s draft class was one where they brought in the high-upside sizzle. It was hit-and-miss in 2017, but things are still looking up for that class, particularly for No. 9 overall pick, John Ross.
We’re not quite sure where some of these pundits are grabbing these potentially poor results from, but it does make one think. Sure, these are arbitrary takes planted within absurd 2019 mock drafts, but are we overvaluing what the Bengals have done?
For instance, famed draft analyst Matt Miller recently released his 2019 mock and had the Bengals taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall. Unless the Bengals do a 180 as a franchise and trade up for a signal-caller, we’re talking a 3-13 type of prediction here.
But, Miller isn’t alone.
Eric Galko of The Sporting News just put out his 2019 mock and guess where he has the Bengals picking? Yep, No. 2 overall and yes, he also has them taking a quarterback in Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Walter Football’s Charlie Campbell has the Bengals picking in the top-10 once again, while RotoWorld also has them picking tenth. Again, these are totally subjective, but it does beg the question as to why the perception of the club is so negative at this point in the process?
Are we too close to the team to see some of the flaws that others do?
If we’re talking about the national landscape, it seems to be a combination of factors leading to their negative 2018 outlook on the Bengals. We don’t want to jump to the “lazy journalism” conclusion, but there is an air of an attitude resembling the “it’s the Bengals” take.
Before the draft, the consensus and conservative opinion was that the Bengals would be in the 7-9 win range in 2018. It’s likely that they improved those chances with last week’s haul, but by how much?
A myriad of factors will also play into the Bengals’ success or lack thereof this year. How healthy will they be? Will the offensive line take a massively needed step forward? Can Ross give them essentially an extra first round pick this year by playing well?
Whatever the case, the disparity of opinions on the possible success or failure by the team in 2018 is eye-opening. If next year is indeed another flop, it’s going to be interesting to see what changes will then come down the pike.
What do you think about the Bengals’ early season outlook now that the draft is in the rear view mirror?