Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for the Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals used the 2011 NFL draft to form the base of this team, which has made it to the playoffs three consecutive seasons now. They used the 2014 draft to finally bolster what was gained in 2011 to hopefully make a championship run.
There have been gaping holes since the 2011 season that the Bengals seem to have plugged with this draft.
For the second time in three seasons, they used a first-round pick to get a cornerback. How does that bode for Dre Kirkpatrick? Or veteran Terence Newman?
The Bengals also drafted a running back for the second consecutive season—what does that mean for BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
How will the depth chart look come this August?
This will be a subject of popular debate in Cincinnati this coming season. It is unclear whether Andy Dalton will sign an extension before the season begins, but if he doesn't, it won't be long before the calls for AJ McCarron start.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com, in his draft grades for all 32 NFL teams, said the following of the Bengals' decision to draft McCarron: "Don't think for a minute A.J. McCarron, their fifth-round pick, will take Andy Dalton's job. It's a backup thing." In the short term, he's not wrong.
If, however, Dalton goes into the year without a contract and falls on his face, fans in Cincinnati will want to see McCarron on the field. McCarron is not coming into this league as an NFL-ready quarterback—he will need work, so he's going to be the third-string quarterback behind the veteran Jason Campbell.
Josh Johnson is on the roster for now, but he likely won't be by the time the preseason rolls around.
For now, Dalton is going to continue to be the starter. The fact is, the drafting of a young quarterback, no matter which one it would have been, was likely just a bargaining chip for the Bengals to use in the Dalton contract negotiations.
It would not shock me to see Dalton have a new extension come Week 1.
Orson Charles (FB)
With another power back in this strong corps, it's hard to fathom what the future holds for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Jeremy Hill is capable of huge things in the NFL—he's a big man who is like a snowball rolling down a mountain. Once he gets going, best of luck stopping him.
This kind of runner resembles the style of Green-Ellis. This likely doesn't spell the end for Green-Ellis, at least not this year. I would imagine you'll see a healthy dose of "The Law Firm" but still a lot of Hill as well.
Meanwhile, with Hue Jackson as the new offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, expect big things from Giovani Bernard. He showed last season that he had incredible quickness and is useful in both the running game and passing attack.
It's time that he takes over as the top running back, as he should be seeing the bulk of the action. Expect Bernard to build on his stellar rookie campaign that saw him run for 695 yards.
For the first time in years, the running game could be the cornerstone of the offense.
If there are two sure things on this offense, it's Bernard and starting receiver A.J. Green. The Cincinnati Bengals have already picked up Green's option for a fifth year, so he's guaranteed to be in the Queen City through the 2015 season.
Past Green, second-year guys Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will see a heavy load of action. Be advised that in theory, Jones is the No. 2 receiver, but he is much better in the slot. Therefore, I show him as the third receiver. Sanu hasn't gotten off to as hot a start in his career as Jones, but he'll still get the opportunity.
After that, the next four receivers have never shown themselves to be star receivers, but that's not what Jackson needs. Dane Sanzenbacher has shown glimpses of solid abilities in Chicago and could also be effective coming out of the slot.
Seventh-round selection James Wright out of LSU may climb onto the depth chart following the preseason, but my thought is that he'll wind up on the practice squad to start the year.
This could very well be the last season that Jermaine Gresham dons a Cincinnati Bengals uniform. He is in a contract season, and while he has been effective from an overall standpoint, he has struggled with dropped passes over the last couple of seasons.
He set career lows in receptions and yards in 2014 and tied a career low in touchdowns. Yet, he's still going to be a starter over sophomore Tyler Eifert. Eifert was underwhelming as a rookie, despite heavy enthusiasm about his arrival in Cincinnati.
There's still a lot of hope for the Bengals to have a solid one-two punch at tight end similar to the team of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski in New England years back. Gresham and Eifert will have to step up, though.
The irritating part about both of their lackluster seasons is that across the middle of the field is the area Dalton should focus on. He's not blessed with the strongest arm, so those short to mid-range throws are his most effective throws.
With Gresham in a contract year, I fully expect him to put up big numbers, and hopefully, Eifert can have the opposite of a sophomore slump.
LT—Andrew Whitworth, Marshall Newhouse
LG—Clint Boling, Tanner Hawkinson, Russell Bodine
C—Trevor Robinson, Russell Bodine
RG—Kevin Zeitler, T.J. Johnson
After adding Russell Bodine from North Carolina, the Bengals have essentially finished bolstering a pretty solid offensive line. They have a good amount of depth now, as well as top-notch starters in Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith.
Clint Boling and Trevor Robinson very well could be replaced by the end of the season. Boling struggled with injuries last season, and Robinson played in just six games. With Bodine and Tanner Hawkinson waiting in the wings, it'd be easy to give them a shot.
This is not to say that both Robinson and Boling are ineffective, they just haven't shown to be as good as the rest of the line. Bodine, whom NFL.com's Mike Mayock said "can play both guard spots," is multidimensional, and Hawkinson brings great size to the table.
It will be interesting to see how this line develops as the season progresses. Hopefully, the injury bug doesn't strike as often as it did last season.
KR/PR—Adam Jones, Brandon Tate, Dane Sanzenbacher, Giovani Bernard
All I can say about the special teams is that I hope Kevin Huber's bell has been un-rung after all this time. He's one of the game's better punters.
The return game is sort of open at the moment. Adam Jones has been working on special teams for years, as has Brandon Tate. Sanzenbacher and Bernard have good speed for this part of the game.
Starters (left to right)—Wallace Gilberry, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap
Reserves (ends)—Margus Hunt, Robert Geathers, Sam Montgomery, Will Clarke, Dontay Moch
Reserves (tackles)—Devon Still, Brandon Thompson
With Michael Johnson's departure, there was a gaping hole left on the Bengals' defensive line. Luckily, Wallace Gilberry, a seven-year NFL veteran, had one of his best seasons as a backup in 2013. He collected 7.5 sacks, 24 tackles, one forced fumble and two passes defended.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that he'll be the Week 1 starter. Meanwhile, the gargantuan Estonian, Margus Hunt is also waiting for his time as a starter. He was a project when he was drafted, given his limited football experience. He only saw limited time in 2013, appearing in 10 games.
Past Gilberry and Hunt, Robert Geathers is likely to see some time, though his best years are way behind him. Rookie Will Clarke should also see some time on the ends.
In the middle, it doesn't seem to matter who you throw in, they are effective. The big question mark will be Geno Atkins' health. He's questionable for the start of training camp following a torn ACL he suffered last season. Domata Peko is a seasoned vet who will continue to be a force up front.
Brandon Thompson saw a lot of time in 2013 filling in for the injured Atkins and Devon Still, who had the same issues. They are reserves in name only—they will see plenty of time on the field.
This will continue to be one of the best front fours in the entire league.
Starters (weak side to strong side)—Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey
Reserves—Jayson DiManche, Emmanuel Lamur, Brandon Joiner, J.K Schaffer, Marquis Flowers
Vontaze Burfict, a perennial all-star in this league, is going to start for the Bengals as long as they can afford him. He led the NFL in tackles in 2013 with a whopping 171.
Rey Maualuga, a player who is not nearly as effective, seems to also be a lock as a starter, despite his questionable coverage prowess. Admittedly, his attack against the pass seemed to improve in 2013 after a disastrous 2012 showing.
That leaves the strong side, which is left empty with James Harrison's departure. The favorite to take over has to be Vincent Rey, who had his best showing in his short career last season. Rey was incredible filling in when Harrison and Maualuga were hurt, totaling 57 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two interceptions.
He's more suited and used to the MLB position, but I see no issues letting him play on the strong side. He certainly is capable of covering the middle of the field and blitzing, both of which are huge requirements for linebackers.
Don't sleep on DiManche or Lamur, however. Lamur, an undrafted free agent in 2012 showed a lot of talent during training camps and the preseason that year, but he missed 2013 with an injury. Meanwhile, DiManche showed promise filling in for injuries as well.
Overall, these guys make up an "A-" linebacking corps, and I expect it'll be an "A+" by the end of the year.
Free Safety—Reggie Nelson, Shawn Williams
Strong Safety—George Iloka, Danieal Manning, Taylor Mays
It seems that Reggie Nelson has reached a point in his Cincinnati career where he will have a starting job as long as he wants it. He has consistently been one of the highlights of this Cincinnati defense since joining the team in 2010.
It does look like second-year man Shawn Williams is learning under Nelson. This should shore up the need to have a future free safety for the team, considering Nelson is already 30.
The strong safety position provides a little more drama. It's unclear who will start at this point, but I expect youngster George Iloka to keep his starting job, while the newly signed Danieal Manning serves as a mentor. Make no mistake, he'll be on the field at times, but it's Iloka's job to lose.
Manning is coming off of one of his worst seasons to date, and that further worsens his opportunity to start. If nothing else, he can be an insurance policy if Iloka goes down to injury.
This part of the secondary still shows some questionable aspects, but there's enough talent to feel confident.
Starters—Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard
Reserves—Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Chris Lewis-Harris, R.J. Stanford
Practice Squad—Onterio McCalebb
A lot of mock drafts showed the Cincinnati Bengals drafting Jason Verrett or Kyle Fuller with the 24th overall selection. Most analysts didn't seem to think Darqueze Dennard would possibly be available that far down.
Mike Mayock, assessing the Bengals' first-round selection, said, "I don't think the Bengals expected him to be available. Dennard is the best press cornerback in this draft. He fits what defensive coordinator Paul Guenther wants to do. He is one of best pure football players in this draft"
Cincinnati hit the lottery with their first pick. Dennard makes for a fantastic complement to Leon Hall, who has been outstanding for the Bengals in his career.
The addition of Dennard did not help Dre Kirkpatrick's situation. He has been struggling with injuries since day one two years ago, and he's now lost a potential starting gig. He will still see action from time to time and actually had some solid outings in 2013 that were good signs. Hall is on the back nine, so Kirkpatrick's chance may come, especially if Hall continues to have an ailing Achilles injury.
At this point, I don't expect Adam Jones to make a huge impact on defense. He'll go in sparingly since he's such an aggressive player, but expect Hall, Denard, Newman and Kirkpatrick to see the most action.