Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #21 Cincinnati Bengals

Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #21 Cincinnati Bengals

by July 18, 2021 0 comments

Coming off of a 4-11-1 campaign in 2020, the Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2021 season with playoff expectations in the third year under Zac Taylor. With Joe Burrow back at full health coming back from his season-ending injury, the Bengals come in ranked 21st in the power rankings, hopeful to make the playoffs, or else Taylor’s time could be up in Cincinnati.

Be sure to check out all of my in-depth power rankings.

Offseason Recap

A franchise quarterback is the biggest thing a franchise needs to succeed. Arguably the second thing teams need to do is put an adequate offensive line in front of him. Some quarterbacks such as Archie Manning, David Carr, and most recently Andrew Luck have seen their careers derailed due to poor offensive line play resulting in injuries that ultimately don’t make them the same player. When Burrow was taken first overall in the 2020 draft, the Bengals had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Things didn’t change as he ended up taking 42 hits and 32 sacks in ten starts before his season ultimately came to an end as he tore his ACL.

The offensive line was a top priority in the offseason, but so was the defense. Out the door went Carl Lawson and William Jackson III, and in came Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton. To help a leaky run defense, the Bengals signed Larry Ogunjobi. Longtime Bengal A.J. Green is now in Arizona, and so is John Ross after his tenure in Cincinnati didn’t work out.

Did They do Enough to the Offensive Line?

As for the offensive line, they had to have done something to make it better. Right? Right?? Oh, this is the Bengals we’re talking about, so let’s do the complete opposite. Cincinnati signed Riley Reiff, who was released by the Minnesota Vikings. The Bengals had to take Penei Sewell since he was there when they went on the clock with the fifth pick. Right? Also no. They picked Ja’Marr Chase. While Chase isn’t a bad player, the glaring, and I mean GLARING need on the offensive line had to be addressed on day two.

The Bengals looked great heading into day two. When the Bengals were on the clock at pick 38, Teven Jenkins, Dillon Radunz, Liam Eichenberg, and Samuel Cosmi were all available. They traded down eight spots with New England, and only Jenkins and Eichenberg went off the board. The Bengals opted to take Jackson Carman instead, who wasn’t even projected to go until later on day two or early on day three and may better fit as a guard in the NFL. While the Bengals also used selections on D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill, they dropped the ball on this one.

A front Seven Makeover

Cincinnati used three picks on the offensive line. Four of the other picks went into the front seven, including three picks on pass-rushers Joseph Ossai, Cameron Sample, and Wyatt Hubert. Picking Tyler Shelvin in the fourth round will immediately give a boost to the run defense this year.

  • Overall – 79.73 (21st) 
  • Offense – 81.36 (16th) 
  • Defense – 74.94 (26th) 
  • Coach and Culture – 71.50 (30th) 
Quarterbacks – 86, 11th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)

This may be a bit of a hot take, but Burrow will be a top-ten quarterback by the end of the 2021 season. He is similar to Matt Ryan in the sense that he has a good sense of controlling the football but can sling it all across the field. While Burrow’s deep ball wasn’t well last year, he also had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, so he couldn’t push the ball deep down the field even if he wanted to. In ten games last year, Burrow completed 65 percent of his passes for almost 2,700 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He was being harassed by opposing defenses all season long, and the sack and times he was hit show that.

While Burrow did manage to get Chase to Cincinnati with the fifth selection, the Bengals should have done a better job addressing the offensive line, which we’ll get to later. Overall, Burrow seems poised to become one of the top ten quarterbacks in the league this year if he stays healthy.

If Burrow gets hurt again, the season is over right from the moment he is laying on the turf. Brandon Allen, Kyle Shurmur, and Eric Dungey are not starting-caliber NFL quarterbacks. When Burrow got injured last year, Allen stepped to the plate and threw for over 900 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions.

Running Backs – 87, 10th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)

Joe Mixon is one of the most underrated players in the league but needs to stay healthy for the Bengals offense to produce at the level it can. Since he came into the league in 2017, Mixon has only played in all 16 games once and only played in six games last year. In those games, Mixon had 140 touches for 566 yards and four touchdowns. He is a factor in the receiving game as well, as he has had over 30 catches in each of his first three years and was on his way to breaking that mark once again last year. Unfortunately, the offensive line hasn’t done him many favors since he has been in Cincinnati.

Samaje Perine had a career resurgence last year as a power back after Mixon went down with an injury. Perine had over 300 yards last year for the Bengals and three touchdowns. Behind those two, Cincinnati has three intriguing young backs that will battle for the final roster spots at the running back spots. Chris Evans was one of the other draft selections out of Michigan, and he could be used in a lot of receiving production during his rookie season. Trayveon Williams enters his third year in the league and only has 31 touches to his name for 187 yards. Pooka Williams was added as an undrafted free agent who will make the team as a return candidate.

Pass Catchers – 89, 5th (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense) 
Receivers

Cincinnati’s receiving room is one of the deepest in the league, led by a three-headed monster at the top. Taking Chase is a controversial move, but he will make the Cincinnati offense a lot better. With Green out of the building, he will line up as the number one receiver, with a ton of upside. Tee Higgins had an excellent rookie season catching 67 passes for over 900 yards and six touchdowns. In the Cincinnati offense, he should have a similar playstyle to what Mike Evans has in Tampa Bay as the big-bodied outside receiver.

With the two young boundary weapons covered, Tyler Boyd will line up in the slot this season. Boyd had another season over 800 yards. He will likely play the role Cooper Kupp does with the Rams this season in Cincinnati. In Los Angeles, Kupp has found a ton of success in the slot, so it will be interesting to see how Boyd does this season.

Auden Tate, Taywan Taylor, and Stanley Morgan will all likely make the roster. Tate has a similar skillset to Higgins but isn’t of the same caliber. Taylor is a slot guy who will struggle to find reps behind the top three.

Tight Ends

The tight end group has some upside, but it hasn’t been seen yet. Drew Sample is a great blocking tight end that hasn’t found much production in the receiving game. C.J. Uzomah is an intriguing option but shouldn’t be trusted as more than a second tight end. There seems to be a big battle between Mason Schreck, Thaddeus Moss, and Pro Wells for the final roster spots in this group. If Moss can stay healthy, he could very well break out and become the starter for Cincinnati this year, and he already has a connection with Burrow.

Running Backs

Mixon is a great receiving back and is similar to Alvin Kamara after the catch. He isn’t an elite receiving back, but he has enough to warrant a good amount of targets each year. Perine and Trayveon Williams aren’t going to factor in much in the receiving game, so keep an eye on Pooka Williams and Evans in this scenario and if Mixon gets hurt.

Offensive Line – 71.5, 27th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense) 

After a great start to the offense, it all comes crashing down due to the offensive line. Jonah Williams is the only piece you have to feel comfortable about at left tackle. Entering his third year, Williams is, as of right now, the only bright spot on the starting offensive line. After selecting him in the second round, the Bengals plan on moving Carman to left guard next to Williams. Trey Hopkins is a band-aid at center for the moment. Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo will likely battle for the right guard spot. Unfortunately, Cincinnati felt like Reiff was enough to not take a tackle until day three of the draft. Altogether, the starting five isn’t great besides Williams.

Thankfully, D’Ante Smith could sit for a year and start in 2022 at right tackle as a fourth-round selection. Hakeem Adeniji is fine as a young backup, but the Bengals are hoping they don’t have to use him at any point this year in meaningful snaps. Fred Johnson and Isaiah Prince will be battling for roster spots. Billy Price was once a first-round pick that never lived up to potential and could be fighting for his job this pre-season. Michael Jordan was the player that allowed the sack that got Burrow hurt last season, so it seems as though he already has his work cut out for him this season.

Altogether, the Bengals screwed up on not adding more pieces to the offensive line. Adding someone like Cosmi or Radunz in the second and then getting Carman in the third instead should have been the move, but it ultimately wasn’t, and Burrow could very well be running for his life once again this year.

Run Defense – 80, 20th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense) 
Defensive Line

A massive weakness for the Bengals last year was their run defense. Cincinnati made large investments on the front seven during the offseason and has made it into a middle-tier unit now. D.J. Reader was a big signing last year, and he only played in five games last year. With him back this season, the unit should take a massive step up as Reader is one of the best nose tackles in the league. Behind Reader, the Bengals signed Ogunjobi and drafted Shelvin in the fourth round. Josh Tupou is back after opting out of the 2020 season. With those four alone, the Bengals have a deep interior defensive line. Mike Daniels isn’t the same player he used to be, but the veteran leadership alone should keep him on the team. Renell Wren could very well be fighting for a roster spot.

Edge Defenders

Swapping Hendrickson in for Lawson helps out the run-game a bit more than Lawson did. Hendrickson didn’t get as much playing time as he should have in New Orleans, and it will be interesting to see if the addition of Hendrickson drastically improves the run defense. Sam Hubbard is an all-around solid player and is a good piece to have as the second edge rusher. The additions of Ossai and Sample give the Bengals a great rotation across the front of the defense. Khalid Kareem will be another piece in the run defense portion as well.

Off-Ball Linebackers

Unfortunately, the Cincinnati linebackers are not fit against the run. Logan Wilson could have a big jump in his second year, but he needs to be more consistent to continue his development. Germaine Pratt needs to show he can stop the run instead of being a pure pass-down specialist. Akeem Davis-Gaither never was going to help much in the run due to being a former safety. Markus Bailey and Jordan Evans don’t help out much against the run.

Pass Rush – 79, 22nd (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)

Hendrickson comes over off of a 13.5-sack season in New Orleans last year on a large contract. Now, he is the number one pass-rush option in Cincinnati after being the third for the Saints. Hubbard had better 2018 and 2019 seasons than he did in 2020, but he could receive some push behind him from Ossai and Sample. Ossai shouldn’t have fallen to the third round, and the Bengals were wise to end his fall. Sample was a fourth-round pick that could help on the interior of the defensive line for their pass rush and the edge. Kareem and Hubert may not receive many reps due to the front four in front of them.

The interior pass-rush isn’t there at all. Reader is a fine pass-rusher but is not a Kenny Clark or Chris Jones. Ogunjobi is very inconsistent as a pass-rusher, but he needs to show he can consistently produce instead of a few splashes here and there. Daniels could be a bigger part as a pass-rusher, so maybe they use him as a third-down specialist.

Linebackers – 68.5, 31st (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)

The linebacker room is versatile but also very young. Wilson is fine as a mike linebacker, and Pratt needs to show more in the run defense part of his game. Pratt is good in pass coverage, along with Davis-Gaither, who is a two-down player at best. Both Wilson and Davis-Gaither have a lot of room to grow in their second years, along with Bailey. Evans is fine as a depth piece and can play any role if needed due to injuries. Keep an eye on Joe Bachie during the pre-season. The group is very young, so it will be interesting to see if they can develop a lot this year with their skillsets.

Secondary – 80.5, 15th (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
Cornerbacks

Cincinnati’s secondary looks a whole lot different than it did last year. Awuzie replaces Jackson, although they aren’t the same level of players. Trae Waynes returns from an injury-riddled 2020 season and will line up on the opposite side of Awuzie. The Bengals made an excellent decision by stealing Hilton from the Steelers to play in the slot as one of the best players in the league in that role. Darius Phillips had lots of starting reps on the outside last year but now will be the fourth spot behind the first three. He is an underrated player, and whenever he is on the field, he makes plays in whichever spot he’s at, whether it’s on the outside or in the slot.

Eli Apple as a fifth cornerback was an excellent signing. He may not be the player he once was in college, but as a fifth option, you can do much worse, and he will be a factor on special teams. Tony Brown will likely be the sixth cornerback to keep and another player that will factor in a ton on special teams.

Safeties 

Jessie Bates is still one of the most underrated players in the league as potentially the best free safety in the league. He is a centerfielder that is a ballhawk for the Bengals. Bates is good in one-on-one coverage against tight ends like Mark Andrews even. Cincinnati is a team that doesn’t usually hand money out to their players, but they need to pay up for Bates. Vonn Bell was an excellent addition last season and is a true strong safety for the Bengals.

Even though they didn’t need to, Cincinnati brought in Ricardo Allen as the third safety. The Bengals could use a lot of cover four under Lou Anarumo. Another idea is that the Bengals could bring Bell down as a sub-linebacker so that Allen could play the second safety role.

Coach and Culture – 71.5, 30th (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
Offense

The Bengals rank top 12 in terms of quarterback, running back, and pass catcher. Unfortunately, the offensive line and Zac Taylor bring their offensive grade down. While Taylor comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree, he hasn’t shown the level of success that many would have liked to see by now. Entering his third year as the head coach, he is firmly on the hot seat in Burrow’s second year. Green’s departure gives a blow to the cultural value as well. Cincinnati ranks 26th in offensive coach and culture. 

Defense

The defense is a lot better than last year by adding a lot to the run defense and secondary. The pass-rush, linebacker room, and coaching are all concerns. There are many young pieces on the defense, and with Lawson gone, Bates needs to show he can be the leader of the defense as the best player and one of the longest-tenured players on the defensive side of the ball. Anarumo uses a lot of the schemes Mike Zimmer influences, but the moving pieces along the defensive side of the ball are a cause for concern. The Bengals rank 31st in defensive coach and culture. 

Season Outlook

The Bengals need to win a good amount of games for Taylor to save his job. The Bengals have to face great pass-rushers in the first three weeks against Minnesota, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, and Burrow could be running for his life right from the first snap of the season. Games against Jacksonville, Detroit, and the Jets before the midway mark are winnable, but they also have games sprinkled in against the Packers, Ravens, and Browns before their Week 10 bye. 

Following the bye, the Bengals play the Raiders before another stretch to round out the season against the Steelers, Chargers, 49ers, Broncos, Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns. That last half of the season is brutal, and the Bengals desperately need to win some games early in the season for Taylor to save his job. The offense is good enough to keep up with teams, but the lack of an adequate offensive line is drastically going to hinder Cincinnati’s performance this year. 

According to Odds Shark, the Bengals have an over/under of 6.5 wins. This total seems right, but with the difficult schedule, take the under. Taylor is fighting for his job this season, and the Bengals may be better off with another coach, most notably Joe Brady at the helm. Bengal fans have a reason to be excited about this season but temper expectations due to the schedule, offensive line, and coaching. 

Season Prediction: 6-11
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*NOTE* Some teams higher in the rankings will have worse records than others. The rankings aren’t based upon the record but the overall talent of the roster. 


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