As per last year, I’ll be sharing projections for every team in the NFL. I use past production in specific roles for each team’s scheme to work out realistic production profiles. You can see how accurate I was in 2017 in my IDP Projection Marking series.
The Bengals have got a bad rep over the last two seasons as they struggled. But the criticism has been way over the top. The team has gone 13-18-1 in the regular season across that time, which is really not that bad. They’ve been a competitive team albeit with some major flaws.
The point of this is that the Bengals really aren’t that far away from being a good team. Certainly, on the defensive side it’s a talented group. Let’s delve into it now.
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Geno Atkins is one of the best interior rushers in the league. He’s firmly in that elite tier of four or five players at the position and should be valued as such going forwards. Having him ranked seventh at the position might even be pessimistic.
Chris Baker was signed in free agency after flaming out in Tampa. Hopefully he can get back to the quality he’s shown before but it is entirely possible that he’s lost the fire and will simply fade away. He’s not on the radar as a serious DT option at the moment.
Carlos Dunlap remains one of the top ends in football but he’s another player who doesn’t get the respect he should. Maybe that’s simply part of being a Bengal. Dunlap has averaged nine sacks a year over the last five seasons: That’s fantastic production and consistency. Add in his solid tackling and amazing ability to bat passes at the line (he’s the best lineman in the league at that) and you’ve got a lock for a top tier end.
The off-season rumours are currently suggesting that Jordan Willis will move ahead of Michael Johnson on the other side. The Bengals are notoriously averse to using young players on defense but Willis is very talented and could become a solid option. He’s not going to play huge volume as Johnson will still be in the mix but he’s trending up.
Sam Hubbard got plenty of hype in the draft process and was selected in the third round out of Ohio State. I like him but he’s a limited player at this stage (he’s relied on his motor and active hands so far) and will need at least a year to develop. He’s purely a stash option on deep rosters.
Vontaze Burfict is so frustrating. On top of the hand-wringing “he’s so violent” witch-hunting, his current PED suspension does not help at all. However, it’s worth noting that as recently as 2016, he was suspended for the start of the season then came back to be the best IDP LB in the league for the rest of the season. When on the field, he’s still a great player. There’s value to be had on him if you have room to hold him.
After Burfict, Preston Brown is a potential sleeper. Fans like to imagine the current young LB will come in and play. Malik Jefferson, Jordan Evans, Paul Dawson, etc. It cannot be said enough that the Bengals do not like to use young defensive players. They like reliable vets. So expect Brown to be on the field more than anyone with Burfict out.
Carl Lawson is currently a DE on MFL so you might be surprised to see him here. He’s certainly a full-time edge player but it looks like Rotoworld will move him back to LB. His value as a linebacker is pretty low unfortunately so this one hurts.
At the lower end of the position, realistically Nick Vigil and Jordan Evans are fighting to be the next man up. Whoever wins that battle will certainly be n the field for the first four games so it’s worth watching closely. Malik Jefferson should expect a redshirt year in all probability. You should not be relying on him to produce in 2018.
William Jackson was one of the great Bengals successes in 2017. He played more as the season progressed and looked absolutely fantastic. Even with the team using a highly unorthodox rotation at the position, Jackson should be pencilled in as the starter across from Dre Kirkpatrick. I want Kirkpatrick in tackle-heavy leagues and Jackson in leagues that favour passes defended for corner scoring.
Williams and Iloka are both solid NFL starters. But the scheme calls for lots and lots of split safety looks with both players rotating in usage. Neither has a true opportunity to become an elite IDP scorer and should be viewed as your second safeties at best.
Bates was selected relatively early in the draft which also indicates either a lack of belief in the starters or some realism in understanding one may have to be let go in the next two years. On most teams, I’d be enthused but honestly Bates could easily still be behind Fejdelem. This team have left higher picks than Bates on the bench as rookies.
Geno Atkins. It’s tempting to pick Carlos Dunlap, but Atkins is quietly on an amazing stretch with nine or more sacks in three straight seasons. His 29 sacks over that period lead all tackles. Aaron Donald has 19. Ndamukong Suh has 16. Gerald McCoy 21. Atkins is a star player.
Carl Lawson. I was on this bandwagon early in the season, and certainly when he was switched to DE-eligible on MFL. But it looks very likely he’ll be classified as a LB and it’s just very unlikely he can match the efficiency he displayed as a rookie.
This is tough to say but Preston Brown might be the best value selection here. The IDP world is desperate for Nick Vigil or Jordan Evans to come in and seize a starting role but this team has shown a clear preference for veterans. Brown isn’t the most exciting player but he’s reliable and effective.
The Bengals are going to be a good defense. It’s not fashionable to think they’re a good franchise but it’s still true. They’re stable and drilled and everyone understands their role. This is an underrated defense with a handful of really good players. Don’t sleep on them in pursuit of the IDP holy grail of 24-year-old breakups. Just profit from reliable players with steady production.
Thanks for reading.