This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Our next team hasn’t won a playoff game or made a change at head coach in 15 years: The Cincinnati Bengals.
If insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the Bengals are the looniest team in the league. Andy Dalton is entering his eighth (!!!) year as the franchise’s starting quarterback, and if he’s to find some type of playoff success this year it will be with largely the same group of players he had last year. Other than some shuffling on the offensive line, the only meaningful change on offense has been the departure of Jeremy Hill and the elevation of Joe Mixon to featured back.
The Bengals have added some defensive line depth for new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but again they more or less seem inclined to repeat this year what they did last season. They have 11 picks to improve their roster during the draft — including five of the first 112 selections — and they also have the 15th-most cap space in the league. Head coach Marvin Lewis’ future appears murky without some semblance of playoff success in the near future, but the team’s current roster has a ways to go before it can hope to climb that mountain.
Need No. 1: Offensive Line
Unsurprisingly, the Bengals’ decision last year to part with Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler proved devastating for the entire offense. The Bengals’ average rank in adjusted sack rate and adjusted yards per rush was 13.5 and 11.3 from 2011 to 2016, but the offense finished with the league’s 24th- and 20th-ranked units last season. Dalton accordingly completed less than 60 percent of his passes for the first time since his rookie season and ranked among the league’s bottom-three quarterbacks in percentage of sacks on pressured dropbacks.
Dalton’s most successful seasons came with a great offensive line and receiving weapons such as Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to complement A.J. Green. The Bengals’ re-worked offensive line doesn’t appear poised to make the leap, as the additions of long-time Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and former Giants’ punching-bag Bobby Hart don’t necessarily outweigh the losses of veteran contributors Andre Smith and Eric Winston. Dalton will also have a new center for the first time since 2013, as Russell Bodine took his talents to Buffalo. In each of the past two drafts the front office has spent just one pick on the unit; it will need to invest more than that in the unit this year.
Telling Stat: Only Derek Carr and Eli Manning had a quicker average release than Dalton last season among 29 quarterbacks to take at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, but Dalton took 16 and six more sacks.
Need No. 2: Quarterback
A quarterback’s performance is certainly dependent on the talent surrounding him, but Dalton’s inability to push the ball downfield last season was apparent. Overall, he joined Manning as the only quarterbacks to complete less than 30 percent of their passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield. After racking up at least 52 completions of 20-plus yards in 2015 and 2016, Dalton completed just 33 such passes last season. The effect on his No. 1 receiver was evident, as Green was one of just 10 receivers to have less than 25 percent of his deep-ball targets considered catchable by Pro Football Focus.
It’s hard to call Dalton anything other than mediocre based on his performance. Among the 25 quarterbacks to make at least 50 starts since he entered the league in 2011, he’s middling:
- Yards per attempt: 17th
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 17th
- Completion rate: 15th
- Quarterback rating: 15th
- Passing yards per game: 19th
Dalton’s regression and low ceiling aren’t the only problems in the team’s quarterback room, as backup A.J. McCarron has been replaced by Matt Barkley, who is unlikely to develop into anything more than an average backup given that he’s posted an 8:14 touchdown:interception ratio in 11 games of action since entering the league in 2013. The Bengals can seemingly move on from Dalton’s contract whenever they please, but it might take a change in leadership for that to happen. Until then, the team should at least consider using an early-round pick on the position to account for a scenario in which Dalton fails to rebound.
Telling Stat: Dalton threw for 300-plus yards in a career-low one game last season. He’d previously passed that threshold on at least three separate occasions during every season except his rookie year.
Need No. 3: Linebacker
Love him or hate him, Vontaze Burfict is a difference-maker on the field. The problem is that Burfict has played in just 36 of a potential 64 games since 2014 and is currently facing a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. The Bengals defense has allowed an additional 2.5 points per game in 28 games without Burfict, and opponents have cleared 100 rushing yards in 66.6 percent of those matchups. The unit was far from dominant even with Burfict in the fold, though, ranking last year among the league’s bottom-eight defenses in average second-level yards allowed per rush. Overall, the Bengals allowed the third- and ninth-most DraftKings points per game to opposing running backs and tight ends last season.
The addition of Preston Brown is an upgrade over free agent Kevin Minter on paper, but the position group is still in dire need of reinforcements. Other than Burfict, the defense doesn’t currently have a linebacker on the roster who was graded higher than 40th by PFF last season. The team has spent four draft picks inside the top four rounds on linebackers since 2015, but they’ve combined to start just 13 games. They’re currently one of just 11 teams with no more than $15M of the salary cap devoted to their linebackers next season.
Telling Stat: In terms of Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, the 2017 Bengals defense was the team’s worst overall unit since 2011, ranking as the second-worst group against the run and pass.
- Wide Receiver: A team that has spent first- and second-round picks at wide receiver over the past two drafts shouldn’t still have a need at the position, but here we are. John Ross displayed his 4.22-second 40-yard speed on exactly 17 snaps last season, while Week 17 hero (for the Bills) Tyler Boyd hasn’t ranked among the league’s 70 top receivers in yards per route run since entering the league. A.J. Green has posted a top-10 mark in yards per route run for six consecutive seasons, but he’s yet to surpass 10 touchdowns or 1,200 yards since losing Sanu and Jones after accomplishing those feats in three of his first five years.
- Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins is a star, but the Bengals don’t have another interior lineman who graded as one of PFF’s top-90 defensive tackles last season. Even if they can coax Chris Baker into performing at his previous high level, more depth is needed in a front that allowed the fifth-most adjusted line yards per rush up the middle and behind the guards. Overall, the Bengals ranked among the league’s bottom-eight units in percentage of runs stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage. They haven’t used a top-three pick on an interior defensive lineman since 2012.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
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