The Bengals are coming off a disappointing season where they struggled particularly on defense and special teams. How will the Bengals look to address their personnel in these areas moving forward?
Looking Forward: The Cincinnati Bengals Defense and Special Teams
The Bengals biggest issue on defense this year was their lack of a pass rush. Tackle Geno Atkins led the team with nine sacks while end Carlos Dunlap was just behind him with eight. Michael Johnson and free agents Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry have not developed into the strong pass rushers that the Bengals hoped they would. On the interior of the line the Bengals are looking pretty good with Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. Peko is a free agent, so if they cannot resign him that would create the need for a nose tackle. One thing that is for certain, the Bengals need to find another pass rusher to place opposite Dunlap.
The Bengals had a need at outside linebacker last year which they tried to fill with Karlos Dansby. Unfortunately, Dansby appears to have lost a step as he struggled this season. The Bengals may choose to address this need internally. They have been high on rookie Nick Vigil. If the Bengals do not pursue another linebacker this year, it is likely because they feel strongly about Vigil’s development. If this is the case, Dansby will likely stay around, but be phased out during the course of the year. If the Bengals aren’t ready to stake the future of the position on Vigil, they may look to acquire another big physical linebacker who will fit their profile in the draft or free agency.
At the beginning of the year, the Bengals were certainly missing Reggie Nelson, but Shaun Williams developed as a safety and played better and better as the season went on. Corner has become a bit of a question mark. Adam Jones recently had a legal issue and it is unclear what this will mean for his future in Cincinnati. Dre Kirkpatrick is entering free agency this season so his return is unclear as well. The Bengals have a pair of former first round picks who could potentially replace one or both in Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III. Dennard has played well in a reserve role the past few seasons, while Jackson spent his rookie season in 2016 on injured reserve.
What happens with Jones and Kirkpatrick will be very important moving forward. Even if they think these young players are ready to step into the spotlight, the Bengals will want to have some experience at the position. Jackson having been injured is still a bit of an unknown commodity. Retaining Kirkpatrick would be ideal, but if not they may seek out an aging veteran. This year’s draft is rich with talent at defensive back. The Bengals may draft a player at corner and/or safety, but it will be a value pick rather than a need.
Kevin Huber has done a good job as the Bengals punter. The question mark is at kicker. Kicker Randy Bullock was acquired late in the season after the team had enough of Mike Nugent’s struggles. The team re-signed Bullock which seems to be a vote of confidence, but expect the team to bring in some competition for the spot.
In order to get back into the playoffs, the Bengals will need to address the issues that they had on defense and special teams. They will need to find a way to improve their personnel through player development as well as free agency and the NFL Draft.