Even though the Bengals had a disappointing 2017 campaign, there were signs of improvement—particularly as the year progressed. A number of younger players and even some grizzled veterans showed improvement from 2016.
Here are the nominees for the Bengals’ Most Improved Player of 2017:
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard: After a tumultuous first three seasons with the Bengals, Dennard had a solid season in 2017. He rotated as the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 corner, based on injuries, but contributed in a number of different ways, nonetheless.
Dennard finished with 85 total tackles, two sacks, two interceptions (including a pick-six against the Ravens) and six passes defended. He was a valuable member to the team’s No. 9 ranking against the pass this past season.
Cornerback William Jackson: Unfortunately, Jackson was robbed of his rookie year with a shoulder injury that landed him on Injured Reserve for all of 2016. He came back in a huge way this year, as he was tabbed as one of Pro Football Focus’ best corners on the year.
He had 27 total tackles and a huge pick-six interception against Aaron Rodgers in Week 3. Perhaps his most impressive statistic in 2017 was his 14 passes defended, with four coming against the Steelers and Antonio Brown.
Tight End Tyler Kroft: The former third round pick has been buried behind Tyler Eifert on the depth chart and took a back seat to C.J. Uzomah in 2016. However, when Eifert went down again this year, Kroft became one of Andy Dalton’s favorite red zone targets.
Kroft had 42 catches for 402 yards and was second on the team with seven touchdown grabs. Additionally, he was an effective chain-mover with 23 of his catches going for first downs.
Linebacker Nick Vigil: Though his season productivity slowed down as the year wound down, Vigil had some nice moments in 2017. In his second season and first with the Bengals relying on him in a significant role, Vigil helped out the defense on a number of occasions.
In 11 games played, Vigil had 79 total tackles, an interception, five stuffed plays and five passes defended. He has more improving to do in 2018, but if he continues to make similar strides this offseason, he could continue to help out the defense as they look to rebound a bit under Teryl Austin.
Defensive lineman Michael Johnson: The veteran end was being run out of town by fans this past offseason, but Paul Guenther found a creative way to both use and spell Johnson. By kicking him inside and allowing rookie Carl Lawson to take some of his snaps as he is aging, Johnson found a productive niche in 2017.
After racking up just 3.5 sacks in 2016, Johnson got that number up to 5.0 this year. He also had 49 tackles, six stuffed plays and a pass defended.
Defensive end Chris Smith: It might be odd to mention Smith in this award group, as he wasn’t with the Bengals in 2016, but he was a solid acquisition in an offseason trade. Before coming to Cincinnati from Jacksonville, Smith netted just 4.5 sacks in three seasons, including just 0.5 in 2016.
Yet, in a rotational role with the Bengals, Smith racked up three sacks with the team, along with a forced fumble, three stuffed plays and two passes defended. He is likely a guy the Bengals will look to re-sign this offseason to keep the solid 2017 pass-rushing group intact.
Vote for your choice of the Bengals’ 2017 Most Improved Player and sound off in the comments!
Who gets your vote for the Bengals’ Most Improved Player in 2017?
This poll is closed
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard
Cornerback William Jackson III
Defensive lineman Michael Johnson
Linebacker Nick Vigil
Tight End Tyler Kroft
Defensive end Chris Smith