The 2016 season was a disappointing one for the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and not by a small margin. This offseason, they find themselves back in the once-familiar position of drafting in the top ten. They also have some major contributors potentially leaving via the free agency. Winning a mere six games last season, the Bengals clearly have some issues, but what are the top three areas that the Bengals must address this offseason?
Cincinnati Bengals 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
The Bengals gave up forty-one sacks last year and were not able to establish the running game on a regular basis, despite having two respected running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. To make matters worse, both left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler are free agents. Despite the disappointing production of the group, Whitworth and Zeitler are two of the most coveted offensive linemen entering free agency this year. Early reports out of Cincinnati are saying that they may be able to keep one or the other, but not both. Whitworth played left guard at times this year as the Bengals both tried to train his presumptive replacement Cedric Ogbuehi and account for their lack of a second suitable guard.
The Bengals have also struggled over the past couple of years to shore up the right tackle position which Jake Fisher and Eric Winston competed for this season. Center may be the only spot on the line that is solidified with Russell Bodine who has started every game at the position since being drafted in 2014. He has had issues at times, but continues to improve and it is unlikely that the Bengals will look to replace him this year.
If the Bengals lose both Whitworth and Zeitler the most likely scenario is that they put their faith in Ogbuehi at the left tackle spot. This leaves uncertainty at right tackle as well as both guard positions where the most likely in-house contenders would be Clint Boling and Christian Westerman. Boling has been inconsistent and played through a shoulder injury most of last year. Westerman was a mid-rounder in last year’s draft and a bit of an unknown commodity.
Keep Your Own
The Bengals must have improved play at this position. Resigning Whitworth and/or Zeitler would be a big piece. If they can’t do so, they will need to address the guard position and in all likelihood put their faith in developing the tackles they currently have on the roster. Guard is a position where you can sometimes find an immediate starter outside of the first round of the draft. Tackles are harder to acquire. Top tackle talent tends to go high in the draft. It is doubtful that the Bengals would reach for a tackle in the first round given their other needs. The Bengals may also look to free agency, but tackles are expensive and any guard they acquired would be a step down from Zeitler.
No player on the Bengals roster last year marked double digit sack numbers. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins led the team with nine, and defensive end Carlos Dunlap had a respectable eight. Beyond Dunlap there is a serious drop off. The Bengals need another pass rusher. It is unlikely that the Bengals will spend the money to acquire a proven veteran, so the draft may be the best place to address this need. The Bengals own the ninth pick in the first round. Although Myles Garrett will be off the board, the Bengals should be have options that could include Derek Barnett out of Tennessee, Bama’s Tim Williams, or Solomon Thomas from Stanford. One of these players may be talented enough to not only contribute to the Bengals pass rush, but draw enough attention to create more opportunities for Atkins and Dunlap.
Karlos Dansby was brought in on a one year contract last year to fill a need at linebacker. All though he was productive enough to lead the team in tackles, Dansby is starting to show his age and was only on a one year contract. One possible replacement is 2016 third round pick Nick Vigil. Vigil played on a limited basis last year, but has an impressive set of physical tools. If the Bengals look to the draft they may be in position to draft a physical specimen in Bama’s Reuben Foster. At 6’1” 245 Foster fits the profile of what the Bengals look for in the position and he may be faster than any linebacker they currently have. If Foster is not available at the ninth pick, they could also look to fill the role with Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham or Temple’s Haason Reddick who also possesses impressive pass rush skills.
The Bengals have many talented players who are capable of performing at a high level, but football is a team game and it is hard to compete in the NFL without having all of the pieces. The Bengals need to improve in many areas to make themselves a playoff contender once again in 2017.