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Despite the many predictions that they would take the best offensive lineman available with the 5th overall pick in the draft, the Cincinnati Bengals went in a different direction, and reunited quarterback Joe Burrow with his former LSU teammate, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who could help form one of the league’s best receiving trios alongside Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. If nothing else, Chase should be a notable upgrade on departed veteran A.J. Green, who never regained his previous elite form despite receiving a large number of targets early in the 2020 campaign.
However, the question of whether the Bengals have done enough to protect Burrow as he returns from the torn ACL that scuttled his 2020 season is difficult to answer. They added veteran tackle Riley Reiff to man the right tackle spot, but he’s replacing Bobby Hart, who was arguably the second-best player (behind center Trey Hopkins) on this below-average line over the past two years.
That move also signals that the Bengals remain committed to former first-round pick Jonah Williams at left tackle, which is far from a sure thing given that Williams did not play particularly well in the few games he managed to suit up for in 2020 after missing all of the 2019 season. The Bengals did draft Jackson Carman in the second round, and he could push Williams for the starting spot at left tackle, but the unit remains a question mark entering the season.
The Bengals continued to attempt to build their defense through free agency, a strategy that didn’t work out as hoped in 2020. Strong safety Vonn Bell played well and complements free safety Jessie Bates nicely, but they will need corner Trae Waynes to bounce back from the injury that cost him his 2020 season. Waynes will join new free-agent additions Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie as the top three corners. Hilton has been a heck of a player in the slot for the Pittsburgh Steelers the past two seasons, and Awuzie was solid during his rookie contract with the Dallas Cowboys, though the departed William Jackson III is arguably a better outside corner than either Waynes or Awuzie.
It’s critical that the secondary play well because it doesn’t appear the Bengals have made any notable improvements on the front. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who missed most of his first season in Cincinnati with injury, will need to return to the form he showed in his final season in Houston, and the Bengals brass will have their fingers crossed that Trey Hendrickson keeps up the production from his breakout season in New Orleans as he replaces Carl Lawson. Larry Ogunjobi, a free-agent addition who primarily played as an undersized, penetrating nose tackle in Cleveland, will likely shift to the three-technique to fit next to Reader, and Sam Hubbard remains in place as a steady presence at the end, but this does not profile as a dominant group.
At linebacker, the hope is likely that Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither, a tandem who showed good range as the subpackage linebackers in their rookie seasons, will step into more prominent roles as three-down players this season and provide an upgrade on last year’s base package pair of Josh Bynes, who has not re-signed, and Germaine Pratt, who has provided underwhelming results thus far in his career.
If Burrow is healthy, he could post huge numbers this season, given his trio of receivers and the presence of running back Joe Mixon, but Cincinnati will need improvement at other spots on the roster to be a playoff contender.
QB Passing Projections
QB Rushing Projections
Skill Projections, Rushing
Skill Projections, Receiving