As a fan of the Move the Sticks podcast, one recent episode stood out in particular. The NFL.com analysts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks provided a framework for building a championship caliber roster. Jeremiah neatly summed up the pieces he believed necessary to compete against the NFL’s best:
Checklist for building a roster in today’s NFL
Role/Number of players
Pass rusher (2)
Off Playmaker (3)
Def Playmaker (3)
Quality OL (3)
That’s where I’d start. Once you fill those 12 spots, you’ll have an outstanding foundation.
We’ll discuss on today’s MTS Podcast
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 20, 2018
With this in mind, we take a look at how the current Cincinnati Bengals roster measures up.
Needed: 1 Bengals: 0 (potential 1 – Andy Dalton)
Andy Dalton is not a franchise quarterback. He is a high level QB who has improved his accuracy and processing speed. He still needs solid protection and a strong supporting cast to get the Bengals near playoff level. Peak Dalton was 2014-15 under the offensive scheme of Hue Jackson and an o-line including the likes of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Despite this, it’s unfair to suggest Dalton’s play would restrict the Bengals from being a contender. With the correct personnel around him he could be serviceable enough to give the Bengals a playoff victory or two, hence his potential grade.
Needed: 3 Bengals: 0 Potential: 1 (Billy Price)
As alluded to above this unit has seen a serious drop off in recent years. Losing Whitworth and Zeitler while failing to develop early draft picks like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher has left the cupboard bare. Cordy Glenn has been an elite left tackle but injuries and age have taken their toll meaning the Bengals are not seeing his best. Clint Boling’s play at guard has seen a dip without help around him while the rest of the line has been a work in progress without long term solutions being unearthed. The one bright spot has been rookie center Billy Price. Despite missing time through injury there is hope he could develop into the first building block for a position group that needs a major overhaul.
Needed: 3 Bengals: 2 (AJ Green, Joe Mixon) Potential: 1 (Tyler Boyd)
On paper the Bengals aren’t short of talent at the offensive skill positions. Joe Mixon’s speed and eye for a gap have been stymied by a dour offensive line but his talent is undeniable. The same can be said for AJ Green who even when the Bengals have been at their offensive worst has consistently ranked among the league’s best pass-catchers. This year’s revelation has been Tyler Boyd. After seemingly being at odds with the coaching staff last year he has blossomed into a quality no.2 option. Boyd has accounted for 756 receiving yards and grades out as PFF’s 12th ranked receiver. In this form, he could quite comfortably be the third playmaker they need. There are two more players on the roster who have the talent to be the missing piece. Tyler Eifert can’t be included due to his injury history but John Ross is a more intriguing name. Tyreek Hill and Brandin Cooks have shown just how effective a true speedster can be in the right offense. The Rams and Chiefs have schemed their receivers into one-on-one matchups and taken advantage of their speed on deep crossing routes. The Bengals need to find a way to use Ross in a similar fashion and utilise his 4.22 40 yard speed.
Needed: 2 Bengals: 1 (Geno Atkins) Potential: 1 (Carl Lawson)
Geno Atkins remains one of the league’s better interior pass rushers. His six sacks and 14 QB hits have been a lone bright spot on an anaemic pass rush. On the edge Carlos Dunlap can be a force but still remains just on the border of the upper echelon pass rushers. At 29, it seems a stretch to expect him to make the leap at this point. Second-year defensive end Carl Lawson will see out the season on IR but Bengals fans will hope 2019 can be the year he becomes a permanent fixture on the defensive line. There has been a general reluctance by Marvin Lewis to use Lawson other than on obvious passing downs. His snap count rarely gets over 50% but his 8.5 sacks as a rookie has left fans salivating at his potential. Elsewhere, hometown rookie Sam Hubbard has flashed early promise but more as a hardworking all rounder than an explosive force off the edge.
Needed: 3 Bengals: 1 (William Jackson) Potential: 1 (Jessie Bates III)
William Jackson had a fantastic start to his NFL career. He graded out as one of the top cornerbacks across the league and was considered a true lockdown corner in 2017. He has faced a more testing time in 2018 which hasn’t been helped by the lack of push up front. Despite this he can still be trusted against most team’s number one wideout. Behind him safety Jessie Bates III gives the Bengals a playmaker in the backfield. From his deep-lying position he has already snagged 4 interceptions helping the Bengals improve from being the league’s 30th ranked in terms of takeaways to now 16th. The clear and obvious missing piece is at linebacker. Vontaze Burfict’s discipline issue means he frequently forgoes multiple games while his performance on the pitch is in clear decline. Elsewhere free agent addition Preston Brown is too much of a throwback to the NFL style that favoured run heavy offenses.
Verdict: As you can see the Bengals only have 4 out of the 12 pieces the Move the Sticks team highlighted which isn’t a surprise considering recent results. The good news is there are 5 potential pieces on the roster who could develop into the foundational blocks of a good team. If the Bengals have another good draft focussing on the offensive line and linebackers then this team could be a dark horse for a playoff run.