The Cincinnati Bengals are gaining some recent media love after pundits have looked a little harder into their roster. Even so, expectations aren’t overly-high, as the team seems to be sitting somewhere between rebuild and prove-it mode.
Many individual players on the roster have a lot to prove this year, as well. Whether it’s in being a former high draft pick that has disappointed thus far, a guy who is in a contract year and/or a veteran who may be pushed by a young gun, there are many story lines to follow this year.
So, which Bengals players could surprise us (in a positive way) the most in 2020? We asked Cincy Jungle contributors for their takes and are eager to hear yours as well!
Nick Manchester: I’m not saying that people think Jonah Williams is bad, but I think that many tend to forget about him.
Since the departure of Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals have had to suffer through a lot of subpar tackles. When you think Bengals’ left tackles, you probably think of Cedric Ogbuehi and Cordy Glenn, or even the warm bodies they had to throw in the mix last year like John Jerry or recent Andre Smith.
The bar for Cincinnati tackles has been tragically lowered over the last five years.
The offseason has been all about Joe Burrow, A.J. Green and the new-and-improved defense. Williams is in a weird state of limbo, since he’s not a rookie, yet has never played an NFL snap.
But he was rock solid at Alabama, particularly at left tackle, and his talent should translate well to the NFL. When the season starts, we’re going to remember why he was the first draft pick of Zac Taylor’s career.
Patrick Judis: I am unabashedly one of the biggest believers in John Ross. I think Marvin Lewis absolutely mishandled him early, and we saw a glimpse of what he could be in the NFL early last season.
Health and snaps may be the only thing standing in Ross’ path of having a breakout year. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Auden Tate are all deserving of snaps as well, which means Ross’ playing time will likely be cut down a bit.
This can be viewed as a blessing for Ross. He hasn’t played extended time with Green on the field as well, and the more frequently defenses are doubling guys like Boyd and Green, the more opportunities he should have with single coverage for Joe Burrow to get him the ball.
Less overall snaps means less wear and tear, which has been the plague of the former top-10 pick’s career. Finally, Burrow has proven to have confidence that spreads to the whole team, which can only help Ross blossom in 2020.
Matthew Minich: Seventh round pick Markus Bailey was the last of three linebackers selected by the Bengals in the 2020 NFL Draft. But don’t let his draft slot fool you, Bailey is a really good football player.
Coming off of an ACL injury in a strange year when prospects could visit teams and be poked and prodded by their medical staff, Bailey fell much farther than he should have. Bailey was worthy of a much higher draft pick and has the versatility that the Bengals are looking for in their defensive personnel.
He is excellent in pass defense and possesses solid range. Bailey does an excellent job of reading the quarterback and breaking on the ball with great speed.
He also demonstrates skill as a pass rusher, both coming off of the edge or blitzing from the middle linebacker position. The former Boilermaker had seven sacks in 2017 and 6.5 in 2018.
These skills are in addition to being an excellent run defender. He is a sound tackler, who makes quick reads and has the speed to go sideline-to-sideline.
With this skillset, Bailey will surpass the expectations of his draft slot and play an increasing role in the Bengals throughout the 2020 season.
Erik K (AKA “Palewook”): If John Ross doesn’t knock the doubt off of his NFL career in 2020, it’ll never happen for him in the NFL. Given all the off-season factors and changes lining up for the 2020 Bengals, anticipating a monster type season from John Ross is a gimme.
I’ll even will go out on a limb here and say it’s more likely that John Ross will post a 1,000-yard season in 2020 than will A.J. Green. In a strange way, their respective futures with the Bengals for 2021 and beyond is playing out in 2020.
If John Ross finally arrives this season, the Bengals will very likely figure out a way to keep him. If Green returns to form and Ross continues being the player he has been thus far in Cincinnati, Ross will be looking for employment elsewhere next season. One of them is getting paid to be in Cincinnati come 2021, but, realistically, it won’t both of them.
John Sheeran: I’m on a Carl Lawson high at the moment, and I think you all should be as well.
Everyone’s been talking about the Bengals re-signing A.J. Green next offseason and extending Joe Mixon before this season. There have even been murmurs about potential extensions for Jessie Bates III and Sam Hubbard next year as well.
Lawson is entering a contract year and no one seems to care enough to discuss the implications of it. As an edge rusher, and an unheralded one at that, he has an invaluable opportunity to produce up to his potential and make a hefty paycheck afterwards. Yes, the injuries have been annoying and the pressures haven’t always ended in sacks, but he’s the defense’s second-best edge rusher behind Carlos Dunlap, and is now in a scheme that fits his build and talents perfectly.
It’s terrifying to imagine what Lawson’s production will look like if he’s able to play 500 healthy snaps. It’s fair to let him earn a lofty second contract next offseason, but the Bengals shouldn’t be surprised when it’ll cost them a pretty penny to retain him.
Anthony Cosenza: In a recent episode of The Orange and Black Insider, I mentioned that 2020 college free agent, Mitchell Wilcox, could have an immediate impact on the Bengals’ roster. The reason? Positional opportunity.
I’m not going with Wilcox here, but I will stick with another player at the position group. Drew Sample, last year’s second-round pick, has a lot to prove in 2020 and he may get the opportunity to prove it.
Sample is healthier, the team has an exciting new quarterback who could rely on a big, pass-catching target early in his career, and, like his head coach, he’s entering the second year in the system. All of these could add up to a big leap from Sample in 2020.
And, while much of the chatter about the needed leap by the Bengals’ offense surrounds Joe Burrow, A.J. Green, Joe Mixon and others, Sample is an under-the-radar piece of similar importance. He’ll have the chance to prove it with Tyler Eifert leaving in free agency and a lack of high-profile guys below him on the positional depth chart.
Which Bengals player will surprise the most in 2020?
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