State of the Franchise: Cincinnati Bengals
To put it simply the 2019 season has not been one of success for Cincinnati. With a new head coach, a star wide receiver and a fairly young roster, hopes were high coming into the season. Now, this is not to say the Bengals had eyes on a Super Bowl or even a deep playoff run, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted just how badly this season has gone. As we head into week 15 the Bengals sit at a lowly 1-12. After a 1-point loss in week 1 to the Seattle Seahawks, hopes were still high. It was an encouraging performance from this Bengals squad and their new head coach Zac Taylor. Outside of their week 13 win against another bottom feeder in the Jets, the week 1 loss to the Seahawks was potentially the highlight of their season. But despite this disappointing season, not everything has been bad. Of the Bengals, 12 losses 7 have come by a touchdown or less, and despite their record, Taylor seems to have removed himself from the hot-seat and set himself up as their coach of the future. Here we will take a look back on the season that was, the highlights and the lows. We will look at the state of the roster as this season draws to a merciful, end. And with the Bengals squarely focused on the draft we will look at potential picks with their more than likely number one overall pick this coming April.
Players 25 and Under: “The Future”:
As with any rebuilding team, the ideal scenario is to have a roster chalked full of young, high-upside guys. Landing these high-upside young players is maybe the most important factor in rebuilding a franchise, well outside of landing a franchise quarterback but we’ll get to that later. The first of these young players that we should mention is the star offensive player and running back, Joe Mixon. He has had an up and down season this year but has really turned it on over the last few weeks showing the player that we all watched during the 2018 season. He has been a little banged up at times this year, he is playing on a 1-12 team that lost its first-round OT before the season had started but despite all of this he has only gotten better as the season wore on. This culminated in a 186 total yard performance in week 14. After rushing for over 1000 yards in 2018 the Bengals have to feel encouraged about their 23-year-old running back.
Speaking of their first-round OT pick, Jonah Williams, he suffered a torn labrum during OTAs over the summer and has missed the whole season. This should not damper expectations though as all reports speak to the fact that he has been working his way back to the point of potentially seeing some action during the season’s final 3 weeks. Yes, an injury is not what you want from your first-round pick, but in a lost season, Williams can simply reset and be ready for the start of camp next summer. There has been nothing to indicate that Williams won’t return to the player he was thought to be when drafted last spring. The Bengals will be looking to plug and play him at LT heading into the 2020 season. Our next young gun is Tyler Boyd who has stepped up in a big way with star wideout AJ Green out for the season. At 25 years old he just makes our cutoff but has shown growth as a player for this year. He might not make it to 1000+ yards receiving this season after hitting that benchmark in 2019, but I feel comfortable in saying that this has something to do with a drop off in QB play and less about Boyd’s talent dropping off at 25. But with Green’s upcoming free agency Boyd could be asked to step up in a big way come 2020.
Looking at the other side of the football things are a little more barren when it comes to young talent, but the likes of Jessie Bates III and Carl Lawson provide hope for the future. Bates is the 2nd year DB out of Wake Forest and he has been relied upon in a big way this year playing 100% of the defensive snaps in almost every game. Through 29 games of his career, he has amassed 6 INTs and 15 passes defended. As for Lawson, a DE who broke into the league in 2017 with an 8.5 sack season, has had one thing hold him back the past two seasons, injuries. In 2018 he suffered an ACL tear, so he played only 7 games and now in 2019 it has been hamstring issues that have limited him to 9 games played. But when he’s been on the field, he has shown lots of potential. While injuries have ruined many a player’s careers, there is hope that the upside he showed in 2017 is what he could do consistently given a full season of work.
2019 Draft Review:
Here we’ll take a look back on the 2019 draft and how the players selected have done in their first season in the Bengals organization.
1.11 OT Jonah Williams. With the 11th overall pick, the Bengals selected OT Williams out of Alabama. Williams, unfortunately, suffered the previously mentioned torn labrum during OTAs and has been out since then. But hopes are still high that he will be able to return and fulfill his potential as the franchise LT for the next decade for the Bengals. We will have to see how he looks in his first game action, but the Bengals are presumably taking their time bringing William back in a lost season. But once he steps on the field, we can expect to see the same potential that made him the 11th pick in the draft.
2.20 TE Drew Sample. Now sitting on IR after only 9 games played this year it is looking like this selection might have been a slight reach. Projected as more of an early day 3 pick on draft day it was even seen as a reach on draft day. This has been proved relatively correct during Sample’s first season after he landed on IR with 5 receptions for 30 yards on the season. And while receiving was not considered his strongest attribute coming out of college you would still like to see more if he was considered a 2nd round talent by the organization.
3.9 LB Germaine Pratt. Gaining more and more playing time as the year has gone on Pratt is looking more and more like a player of the future for the Bengals. After not breaking 50% of defensive snaps played until week 10, he played a season-high 72% in week 14. That, along with a steep drop off in special teams snaps make it apparent the Bengals have seen lots to like.
4.2 QB Ryan Finley. Selected as a potential quarterback flyer in the 4th round there was hope that sitting and learning from Andy Dalton would provide a year to grow and mature without the pressure on winning. But unfortunately for Finley, but fortunately for the Bengals, a horrible year forced them to throw Finley to the wolves before he was ready. Finley was given 3 starts in weeks 10-12 and showed that he could have used, as originally thought, a full season of sitting and learning. During those 3 starts Finley threw for only 2 touchdowns and the Bengals were outscored by a combined 82-33.
4.23 DT Renell Wren. Suffered a hip injury that has now landed him on the IR, but before this Wren turned in a solid season if not spectacular. He saw consistent playing time but never really broke out in a big way. Still, the potential is still there for a slightly older prospect.
4.34 OG Michael Jordan. One of the youngest players in the 2019 draft at 21 years old Jordan was a high upside player but with lots of big game experience after starting for Ohio State. He has now started 6 games in his young career including weeks 13 and 14 in which he played the entirety of the game. Two of Joe Mixon’s best games this year have come during games Jordan started and played 100% of the snaps. The Bengals are hoping they’ve found a guard to open lanes for Mixon for years to come.
6.9 HB Trayveon Williams. Williams was seen as a solid 3rd down option coming into the league but he has yet to break through into that role with the Bengals. He has been blocked by a similar HB in Giovani Bernard and relegated to special teams. He could still fall into the role he was drafted for next season, but for this to happen he will have to show the Bengals that he can provide more than Bernard at a lesser cost and convince them to move on from Bernard.
6.38 LB DeShaun Davis. This pick was the true definition of a late-round flier. Davis was a solid older player coming out of Auburn who was productive in his time there. But scouts had criticized his lack of size, and this turned out to be his downfall. The Bengals waived Davis at the deadline for final roster cuts but then brought him back to the practice squad before he was cut again. Davis latched on with the Jaguars practice squad before being cut again and now has been a free agent since September 5th. Though he was a late-round pick you would’ve liked to see him at least stick in the organization into the season. This pick did not go according to plan.
6.39 HB Rodney Anderson. Another older player out of college who would have gone much higher if not for his one weakness, injuries. Anderson suffered injuries in 3 of his 4 seasons in college at Oklahoma and the injury bug came back to bite him again in his rookie season. After suffering a right knee ACL tear during his final season of college he was cleared to play just weeks before the NFL season started, and days before week 1 he suffered another right knee ACL tear ending his season before it started. He states he’s working his way back, but you have to wonder if this is a Marcus Lattimore scenario where a highly talented prospect’s career ends before it really has the chance to get started.
7.9 CB Jordan Brown. Similar to Dashuan Davis, Brown was waived during final roster cuts before the season started. He latched on to the Jaguars for a little while before being cut and now resides on the Raiders practice squad as on December 4th.
Potential Free Agents/Cuts:
The Bengals could have a lot of money coming off the books heading into 2020. Let’s start with potential roster cuts that the Bengals might make to clear cap space. The first and most obvious one is longtime quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton is set to make 17 million next year but can be cut this offseason at no cost to the team. This is a no brainer for the Bengals with Finley in the fold and potentially the number 1 pick with their pick of quarterbacks in the coming draft. The 2nd potential cap casualty could be William Jackson III though Jackson has put in a good year for the Bengals, he is down from what he has done in the past and at 9.9 million is salary cutting him at zero cost seems like a scenario that might play out. Cordy Glenn is making 9.5 million next year and could be seen as a potential cut as well. If not for the Jonah Williams injury and the fact that Bobby Hart as struggled this year, this move would seem more likely. But, as with any rebuilding team depending on how the Bengals feel about Williams, they may choose to free up that space planning on slotting Williams and Hart back in their OT positions.
As for free agents, it would be nice if the Bengals attempted to bring back AJ Green as he would be a nice player to have for a potentially highly drafted quarterback, but it seems as if he is probably onto greener pastures this offseason. I think the Bengals elect to let Darqueze Dennard walk as well as he has been underwhelming in recent seasons and the former 1st round pick has not recorded an interception since 2017. The player I would most like the Bengals to focus on bringing back next season is DT Andrew Billings and while his stats have not been overwhelming this season this also means he shouldn’t break the bank when it comes to free agency. Though I’m not sure it’s worth it, I could also see the Bengals bringing back Tyler Eifert on another 1-year deal as he’d be the definition of a solid security blanket for the new QB, along with Drew Sample not showing out in his first season might make this resigning a reality. As for all the other free agents this offseason, some of them starters who I’m sure the Bengals will try to bring back, none are franchise-changing players.
The 2020 Draft:
At the moment the Bengals are the clear front runners for the number 1 overall pick in 2020. SO, for now we’ll talk about them as such. In my opinion, there are really only two options the Bengals will be considering here. The first is Chase Young a DE out of Ohio State. Young is thought to have franchise-changing talent on the defensive side of the ball and has racked up 40.5 sacks over 33 games, so far, in his college career. But, unfortunately for the Bengals, they also have a massive hole at their starting QB position, especially if they follow through with cutting Dalton. And in this likely scenario, it makes the wonder kid, and probable Heisman winner, Joe Burrow their selection. The QB out of LSU has come on strong this season and looks the part of a franchise QB that could put a team over the top, which has to have Bengals fans excited after years of suffering through a Dalton lead team.
Look back on the 2009 Draft.:
One of my favorite things to do is take a look back at the franchise 10 years ago and see how the ‘09 draft class played out.
1.6 OT, Alabama, Andre Smith. Drafted as a top 10 pick in 2009 the Bengals has hopes of Smith being their OT of the next decade. This, sort of, became the case. He broke out in a big way in 2012 earning his first and only All-Pro nod. But this would prove to be his peak he bounced around a little bit in recent seasons playing for both the Vikings and Cardinals before coming back to the Bengals in what seems to have been a small farewell tour as he was released at the end of November. Over the course of 9 years played he started 67 games for the Bengals.
2.6 LB, USC, Rey Maualuga. Their 2nd round pick that year which turned into a solid, if not spectacular pick. Maualuga turned out 104 starts at LB over 8 years for the Bengals, peaking in 2012 with a 122-tackle campaign. He last played for the Bengals in 2016 recording 27 tackles over 6 games. He went on to play 2017 with the Dolphins where he was eventually cut, and he did not catch on with anyone since.
3.6 DE, Georgia Tech, Michael Johnson. This was the best pick of the draft for the Bengals. He was playing for the Bengals through last season, with a one-year pit stop in Tampa Bay. He played for 9 years in Cincinnati playing in 141 games with 106 starts. He recorded 40.5 sacks for the Bengals over the years, also peaking in 2012 with an 11.5 sack season. Any team would have happily taken that kind of production and longevity from a 3rd round pick.
3.34 TE, Missouri, Chase Coffman. This pick did not go as planned for the Bengals. Coffman only played one season in Cincinnati before being cut. He finished his career in 2016 with 39 games played and only 177 yards with 2 touchdowns. In his one season with the Bengals, he provided 3 receptions for 30 yards. Not what you want from a 3rd round pick at all.
4.6 C, Arkansas, Jonathan Luigs. Simply put he was not what the Bengals wanted when they drafted him as one of the highest-graded centers in the ‘09 draft class. He spent one season with the Bengals getting action in 8 games as a backup. He was cut after the season and never played another snap in the NFL.
5.6 P, Cincinnati, Kevin Huber. Well, I can’t claim to ever like a specialist being taken anywhere before the 7th round, but in this case, it seems like the Bengals made the right call. Huber has been the Bengals punter since he was drafted and is still so today. If you’re going to take a punter in the draft, you definitely hope you get as much production as Huber has given the Bengals. A local product having played his college ball at Cincinnati he fell in line with the Bengals and has made the pick more than worth it.
6.6 CB, Michigan, Morgan Trent. Trent lasted 3 years in the NFL playing 2 seasons for the Bengals while appearing in 30 games. He only gained 1 start though and grabbed 1 interception during his time in Cincinnati. He last appeared in 2011 with the Jaguars turning in the best 5 game stretch of his career with 2 picks.
6.36 HB, Abilene Christine, Bernard Scott. Scott played 4 years for the Bengals from ‘09-’12 appearing in 47 games and starting 3. He totaled 1,035 rushing yards in his years with the Bengals while rushing for 4 touchdowns. He made his biggest impact on the field as a kickoff returner totaling 1,616 all-purpose yards in 2010.
7.6 FB, BYU, Fui Vakapuna. Vakapuna never made an impact for the Bengals as he never touched the ball during his time with them. Though he was a classic Hard Knocks storyline, and as most of those go, he was cut at the end of camp.
7.40. DT, Memphis, Clinton McDonald. This was actually a great pick by the Bengals though sadly he would go onto make an impact for other teams. He is still playing in the league this year, though he is on IR at the moment. He only provided the Bengals with 8 games played recording 4 tackles during his lone season there. But he has gone on to put together a nice career playing in 121 games for 4 other franchises since his time in Cincy.
7.43 WR, Utah, Freddie Brown. Brown never made it off the practice squad in his two seasons in the league. Even after a solid career at Utah he just could not breakthrough for the Bengals in ‘09 or the Vikings the following season.