OT Andre Smith, ILB Kevin Minter, CB Bene Benwikere.
Early Draft Picks:
WR John Ross, RB Joe Mixon, DE Jordan Willis, DE/OLB, Carl Lawson, WR Josh Malone, DT Ryan Glasgow, K Jake Elliott. Bengals Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Rex Burkhead, OT Andrew Whitworth, G Kevin Zeitler, DE Margus Hunt, DE Domata Peko, OLB Karlos Dansby, ILB Rey Maualuga.
2017 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
The Bengals struggled on this side of the ball last year, as their points-per-game average dropped from 25.6 in 2015 to 20.3 in 2016. Injuries were the primary culprit, as Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green were both sidelined at times. In fact, the two were on the field together for just three full contests, and Cincinnati averaged 26 points in those affairs, so it was clear how important they were to the team's success.
Cincinnati could have similar problems offensively this upcoming season, and that is only partly on Eifert's recovering back; the stud tight end told the media that he's unsure if he'll be ready for training camp. Even if Eifert recovers in time, the Bengals have much greater problems this season, as they lost two exceptional offensive linemen to free agency, with Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler departing.
Whitworth's absence will leave a big hole at left tackle. Both tackle positions are actually in flux right now, as two young, unproven players, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, are slated to be the starters. Both saw action in 2016, but they both struggled mightily. They were both early selections in the 2015 NFL Draft, so there's a chance they could improve, but the Bengals will have major problems blocking if they perform like they did this past season.
Zeitler, meanwhile, was even better than Whitworth, so there's a huge hole at one of the guard spots. Clint Boling, as a result, is the team's best blocker, and he's a pretty talented guard. The other guard, however, will be Andre Smith, who has been awful the past several seasons. Center Russell Bodine is just mediocre at best.
It was surprising to see the Bengals fail to upgrade their offensive line at all. They did, however, spend the ninth-overall pick on John Ross, a blazing-fast receiver who broke the NFL combine 40 record with a 4.21. Ross could be a terrific complement to the All-Pro Green and Eifert. Second-year Tyler Boyd will reprise his role as the slot receiver.
Ross wasn't the only exceptional talent the Bengals added via the draft. A second-round pick was used on Joe Mixon, who would've been a top-15 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft if he hadn't struck a woman on camera. If Mixon can stay out of trouble, he'll likely be an enormous upgrade at running back over the disappointing Jeremy Hill. Giovani Bernard, who doesn't have the confidence of the coaching staff to shoulder the majority of the workload, will continue to serve as a potent pass-catcher out of the backfield once he returns from his ACL tear.
Ross and Mixon should definitely help Andy Dalton, as will Green and Eifert if they can remain on the field. However, offensive line talent is more important than ever in the NFL because teams don't practice nearly as much as they used to. Dalton, who needs all the help he can get because of his physical limitations, could struggle at times as a result; this is the first time he won't be playing behind a strong blocking unit.
2017 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The Bengals spent their initial two draft selections on offensive talent. They then used their next two picks to bolster their edge rush, which they've needed to do for quite some time.
A third-round pick was utilized on Kansas State's Jordan Willis, while the next choice was spent on Auburn's Carl Lawson. One of those players figure to pan out in the long run, as they both have plenty of athletic upside. However, it remains to be seen if they'll be able to contribute on a high level as rookies. The Bengals will need one of them to step up from across Carlos Dunlap, who has recorded 21.5 sacks in the past two seasons. Michael Johnson saw extensive action across from Dunlap last year, but was a major disappointment. He has been horrible ever since leaving Cincinnati a few seasons ago and taking lots of money from Tampa Bay. Johnson, who notched 3.5 sacks in 2016, probably shouldn't even be rostered anymore.
The Bengals used one of their next picks on a defensive tackle, taking Ryan Glasgow. It's highly unlikely Glasgow will push for playing time as a rookie because he was just a fourth-round pick, but there is a chance because Cincinnati doesn't have anyone capable next to Geno Atkins. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle has collected 20 sacks over the past couple of years, which is a great number for a player at his position. The Bengals don't have anyone proven to play next to him, however. Pat Sims is the incumbent, but he's pretty pedestrian. Andrew Billings, a 2016 fourth-rounder, could have a shot to win the job, but he missed his entire rookie campaign with a torn meniscus.
The only viable player the Bengals added via free agency was Kevin Minter, a former second-round pick of the Cardinals who had been considered a bust prior to his break-out 2016 campaign. He'll play along with the talented but troubled Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey, who had a strong season as a part-time player. If Minter doesn't regress to pre-2016 form, the Bengals could have a very potent linebacking corps.
There are some unknowns in the secondary as well. For instance, it's unclear how 2016 first-rounder William Jackson will perform because he missed his entire rookie campaign with a torn pectoral. Then, there's long-time Bengal cornerback Pacman Jones, who might be facing league discipline after pleading guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor in May. It would also be nice for Cincinnati if it could get positive play out of 2014 first-rounder Darqueze Dennard, but he has been a bust thus far. All that's remaining at corner is the talented Dre Kirkpatrick, who signed a $52.5 million contract in March, and the mediocre Josh Shaw.
Cincinnati took a hit at safety last spring when it lost Reggie Nelson to the Raiders. Shawn Williams took over next to George Iloka and did a fine job as Nelson's replacement. He wasn't as good as Nelson, but has potential as a former third-round pick. This past season was his first as a starter, so he could improve his play going forward.
2017 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has developed a strong home-field advantage recently, going 23-9-1 over the past four seasons. This, however, hasn't mattered in the playoffs, as the Bengals lost to both the Chargers and Steelers as hosts.
The Bengals spent a fifth-round pick on Jake Elliott to take over as their kicker. He was 44-of-54 in his final two seasons of Memphis.
Punter Kevin Huber ranked 11th in net punting back in 2015, but he dropped to 21st this past season.
It was a mixed bag for Cincinnati's special teams. The team outgained opponents by 3.4 yards on kickoffs, but was outclassed by 3.2 yards on punt returns.
The Bengals don't have a difficult schedule; only three non-divisional foes reached the playoffs last year, and two of them - Texans, Lions - lost early in the playoffs.
2017 Cincinnati Bengals Rookies:
Go here for the Bengals Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2017 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: If the Bengals managed to retain Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, they'd have a strong chance to win the division. However, the two elite blockers have departed, and the offense will likely struggle as a consequence. Cincinnati, as a result, is likely to finish around .500 at best, and that record could be much worse if the team sustains several key injuries again.
Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Bengals couldn't do anything offensively last year when either A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert was out. Now, Cincinnati has lost two of its stud offensive linemen. The offense has to be retooled now, though the Bengals can't ignore some of their glaring needs on defense like defensive end and linebcker.
2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: If Cincinnati's goal was to cause lots of controversy during the draft, the team deserves an A+ for its effort. Joe Mixon was the biggest story on Day 2, as the Bengals selected the troubled running back after moving down seven spots in the second round. Mixon was filmed punching a woman and knocking her out, which was horrible to watch. However, this occurred several years ago, and there haven't been repeat incidents. If a team wanted to give Mixon a second chance, I can understand it, but the Bengals better make sure they cut him if he gets into similar trouble again. If Mixon remains clean, he'll offer a huge upgrade over Jeremy Hill, who has disappointed since his rookie campaign. He's a big risk, but the payoff is enormous.
There was also some controversy in the opening frame, as the Bengals picked John Ross No. 9 overall. Ross was reportedly off some teams' boards because of his durability issues, though he certainly has the physical skill set to be the ninth-overall selection in the draft. Cincinnati wanted Will Fuller or Corey Coleman last year, and Ross is a better version of them. He and Josh Malone will provide some much-needed juice in the receiving corps, so if either A.J. Green or Tyler Eifert gets hurt again, the offense won't collapse.
The Bengals also had to upgrade their pass rush, and they focused on that in the third and fourth rounds, acquiring Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. I loved both picks, as the two players were steals. I had Willis going at the end of the first round, while Lawson would've had a chance at the opening frame had he not endured so many injuries in college.
There was nothing wrong with anything else Cincinnati did. It was a solid draft overall. I thought Ross was a bit of a reach, considering his injury, and Mixon is a big risk, but the Bengals did a very good job of addressing needs and selecting talented players while doing so.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
9. John Ross, WR, Washington: C+ Grade
I had John Ross slotted to the Bengals in my 2017 NFL Mock Draft, but I did not think Jonathan Allen and Malik Hooker would be available. Wow, how do you pass on them? At any rate, Ross makes sense for the Bengals. Cincinnati wanted Will Fuller or Corey Coleman last year, and Ross is a better version of them. That said, there were better players available, so I have to give this something like a C+. I'm also concerned about Ross' durability.
48. Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma: A+ Grade
What a great pick by the Bengals. I know Joe Mixon has a checkered past, to say the least, but had he been clean off the field, he would've been a top-15 pick. He has behaved well recently, so there's a chance he has changed for the better. If so, Cincinnati is getting a potential All-Pro running back. And the cherry on top is that the Bengals obtained Mixon after trading down!
73. Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State: A+ Grade
I wrote that the Chargers' pick of Dan Feeney could go down as the best pick in the third round. Well, it just received some competition. Jordan Willis is a highly athletic pass-rusher who easily could've been chosen at the bottom of the first round. That's actually where I had him, but I'm not sure why he dropped so far. The Bengals won't complain, as he should be able to help their mediocre pass rush.
116. Carl Lawson, DE/OLB, Auburn: A Grade
Carl Lawson had a chance to be a first-round pick had it not been for multiple injuries. Unfortunately, those are a concern. If Lawson can stay healthy, he'll be a terrific edge rusher for the Bengals, filling a big need. That's a huge "if," however, but I think he's worth the risk here.
128. Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: C+ Grade
The Bengals were expected to go after two receivers, given their dire need at the position. Josh Malone is much different than John Ross, as he's not explosive and struggles to separate. However, he's a big wideout with deep speed, so maybe he'll pan out. I would've taken him a round later.
138. Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan: B- Grade
I slotted Ryan Glasgow in the fifth round, so he makes sense at the end of the fourth frame. Glasgow tested extremely poorly athletically, but was very productive at Michigan. He could end up being a solid rotational lineman for the Bengals, but probably won't ever be a decent starter.
153. Jake Elliott, K, Memphis: C Grade
A kicker in the fifth round? Meh. I know the Bengals had field-goal woes in 2016, but this is still a bit early for a kicker.
176. J.J. Dielman, G, Utah: C Grade
I was close to placing J.J. Dielman in the seventh round of my mock draft, but he didn't quite make the cut. He easily could have though, as he has upside and athleticism. The Bengals are desperate for blocking, so the pick is logical.
193. Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma: B+ Grade
The Bengals had to find a linebacker, and Jordan Evans is a decent one at this juncture. Evans is very athletic and could be a coverage specialist for the Bengals in sub packages. I don't see him as an every-down player, but there's a slight chance he could end up becoming one.
207. Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston: B Grade
Brandon Wilson wasn't very productive as a cornerback at Houston, but he has terrific athleticism and return ability. It's unclear if he'll see the field much as a defender for the Bengals, but he could definitely make an impact on special teams.
251. Mason Schreck, TE, Buffalo: B- Grade
I'm sure the Bengals aren't trying to troll their fans by selecting a tight end every year, but Mason Schreck has above-average athleticism and could compete for a roster spot. It'll be tough for him to beat out the players behind Tyler Eifert, however.
The Bengals missed the playoffs for the first time in the Andy Dalton era. Injuries and suspensions were to blame. Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Eifert missing games early in the season put Cincinnati in a hole, and just when things were looking up, A.J. Green went down with an injury. Perhaps the Bengals will have better luck in 2017.
Bengals cut ILB Rey Maualuga
Bengals re-sign DE Wallace Gilberry
Bengals re-sign RB Cedric Peerman
Bengals sign ILB Kevin Minter
Bengals sign OT Andre Smith
Bengals re-sign OT Eric Winston
Bengals re-sign CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Bengals re-sign WR Brandon LaFell
Bengals sign CB Bene Benwikere
Defensive End: Cincinnati signed Michael Johnson after the Buccaneers cut him, thinking that he could help its poor edge rush. He predictably struggled. The Bengals need to finally obtain a viable bookend across from Carlos Dunlap.
Safety: The Bengals missed Reggie Nelson, as he left for Oakland this past offseason. Their defense was much weaker on the back end as a result, so they could spend one of their early selections on a replacement.
Wide Receiver: If we learned anything in the wake of A.J. Green's injury, it's that the Bengals lack a second option at receiver. Tyler Boyd has flashed some potential, but he might just be a tertiary target. Re-signed Brandon LaFell
Two Offensive Tackles: Re-signing Andrew Whitworth would take care of one of these positions. The other might not be addressed because Cincinnati might give Cedric Ogbuehi another shot even though he was horrible in 2016. Signed Andre Smith
Guard: Kevin Zeitler is another free agent offensive lineman the Bengals need to retain. Zeitler has been one of the league's best guards over the years, so his absence would be detrimental.
Cornerback: Pacman Jones has declined, which is not a surprise at his age. With that in mind, if the Bengals don't re-sign Dre Kirkpatrick, they'll need to find another talented player at the position. Re-signed Dre Kirkpatrick
Running Back Depth: With Rex Burkhead hitting free agency, the Bengals could stand to add another running back.
Defensive Tackle Depth: Domata Peko has an expiring contract, but he has regressed. Cincinnati should pick up another interior defender.
Quarterback: Andy Dalton isn't going to lead the Bengals deep into the playoffs, but they're stuck with him for now.
Kicker: Cincinnati had kicking issues all year, so this is something the front office will finally need to shore up.
Kevin Minter, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 26. Signed with Bengals (1 year)
Kevin Minter had been a disappointment as a former second-round pick, until this past season when he played well. Minter is a one-year wonder, but he has upside, and he's also still young, having turned 26 prior to the end of the 2016 campaign.
Andre Smith, OT, Vikings. Age: 30. Signed with Vikings
Andre Smith used to be a terrific right tackle. It's unclear what happened to him, but perhaps the lethargy concerns teams had with him going into the 2009 NFL Draft can explain it. Smith has been awful the past two seasons, but it's difficult to ignore his talent level. Hopefully someone can motivate him.
Cincinnati Bengals Free Agents:
Salary Cap Space: $47.1M
Kevin Zeitler, G, Bengals. Age: 27. Signed with Browns (5 years, $60 million)
Kevin Zeitler is one of the jewels of the 2017 NFL free agency class. He's been one of the top guards in the league over the past several seasons, possessing no weaknesses in his game. There's no reason for Zeitler to decline either, as he'll turn just 27 in March.
Andrew Whitworth, OT, Bengals. Age: 35. Signed with Rams (3 years, $36 million)
Andrew Whitworth would be rated at five stars if it weren't for his age. He's been one of the top left tackles in the NFL for a very long time. However, he just turned 35 and could begin to decline at some point in the near future.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Bengals. Age: 27. Re-signed with Bengals (5 years, $52.5 million)
Dre Kirkpatrick has been a disappointment for most of his career, but he finally performed on a high level in 2016. Kirkpatrick certainly has the talent to keep playing well, and he's only 27.
Rex Burkhead, RB, Bengals. Age: 27. Signed with Patriots
Rex Burkhead is a solid, pass-catching back who was given a chance to shine when Giovani Bernard was knocked out with an injury. He took full advantage of it, snatching four receptions in some games.
Karlos Dansby, OLB, Bengals. Age: 35. Signed with Cardinals
Karlos Dansby has been an outstanding linebacker for many years, but he regressed this past season. He wasn't horrible, but he definitely declined in pass coverage. He turns 36 in November, so he could be done.
Rey Maualuga, ILB, Bengals. Age: 30.
Rey Maualuga was a solid defender prior to this past season, but he really struggled in 2016. Perhaps that was because of a leg injury he sustained. Regardless, Maualuga could be a semi-decent two-down linebacker if he's healthy.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Bengals. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Bengals
Margus Hunt, DE, Bengals. Age: 30. -- Signed with Colts
Domata Peko, DT, Bengals. Age: 32. -- Signed with Bronos (2 years, $7.5 million)
Eric Winston, OT, Bengals. Age: 33. -- Re-signed with Bengals
Wallace Gilberry, DE, Bengals. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Bengals
T.J. Johnson (RFA), C, Bengals. Age: 27. -- Tendered by Bengals
Cedric Peerman, RB, Bengals. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Bengals