Prior to training camp beginning July 26, questions abound in the Cincinnati Bengals organization in what is a critical year for the team. Marvin Lewis was brought back as head coach, much to the dismay of fans, and the feeling that the team must take a strong step forward is looming heavy. The offense features playmakers as well as question marks and training camp will hopefully answer the questions below.
Quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t a question mark per se, but he is obviously the most important piece in making the offense effective. Dalton has been a steady quarterback yet he needs to step up and lead the team more effectively for them to go far. He is the 14th-worst rated quarterback since entering the league when under pressure, something he often is. The Bengals addressed this by bolstering the offensive line with the addition of Cordy Glenn and the drafting of Billy Price, yet they still rank as the league’s 26th best offensive line per PFF. Dalton is a steady quarterback that has tallied an 88.7 quarterback rating over his career and a strong season with few turnovers would likely steer the Bengals into the playoffs.
Running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard are a lethal one-two punch that has the potential to rank amongst the league’s best. Mixon was drafted as one of the most talented backs in a good 2017 draft class and he showed flashes of his immense talent in Week 14 versus Cleveland (165 total yards) and Week 17 versus Baltimore (96 rushing yards). The offensive line improving is key to his performance. Giovani Bernard is one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL and his explosive playmaking ability is also a key component in the backfield. One of the questions going into training camp is whether Mixon can live up to the draft pedigree and meet the lofty expectations. From a fantasy standpoint, he is the Bengals’ most important player and typically the highest drafted- drafted as the RB12 in June DLF ADP.
The receiving corps will be the most watched position going into training camp. A.J. Green is a beast and commands secondary attention but the spots opposite him are very much up in the air. John Ross carries the draft pedigree, drafted early in the first round of 2017 after posting the fastest ever 40-yard dash in the combine, but couldn’t get on the field his first season. Ross flashed that electric speed, torching defensive backs in OTAs and will get the spot opposite Green if he is healthy. The Bengals do not deploy three wide receiver sets as often as most teams and if they do, the third spot will be manned by Josh Malone, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, or Auden Tate. Josh Malone looked very good in OTA’s as well, Tyler Boyd has talent but hasn’t made much of his opportunity, and Brandon LaFell has been steady if unspectacular as their second wideout the last two seasons. Auden Tate flashed immense talent at Florida State but underwhelmed in 2017 with a backup quarterback, Tate has looked like a monster in offseason activities thus far.
Finally, amongst the offensive skill positions, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft are the top tight end options. Another question: will Tyler Eifert ever be healthy for a whole season? In 2015 Eifert played 13 games and caught 52 passes for over 600 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has potential to be a top 5 tight end and really opens up the offense when he is on the field. Eifert received a one-year contract and is in a pivotal season for the talented tight end’s career. Kroft filled in effectively in 2017, catching 42 passes and notching 7 scores, but he doesn’t strike the fear into defensive game plans like Eifert did.
As far as the rest of the team- offensive line improvement was addressed as stated above and it is the biggest question of 2018. The Bengals attack is typically more conservative and not ‘explosive’, focused on being efficient and running a balanced gameplan. The defense is a solid unit and doesn’t face many questions before training camp. The defense features depth and talent on the defensive line and the line will be the strength of the defense. The linebacking unit has some depth after acquiring Preston Brown to start alongside Vontaze Burfict- when he can stay on the field, one of the best- and Nick Vigil likely. The secondary is solid and has depth, the emerging cornerback William Jackson III will anchor the defensive backs for many years. The defense will keep Cincinnati in most games, it’s up to the offense to improve and win the games that have escaped them the past few years.
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