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2015 NFL Draft: Could Bengals Forego Defensive Tackle in Early Rounds?

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With Geno ppealtkins continuing to headline the group, is the Bengals’ defensive tackle group set for the 2015 season? Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone who’s kept up with Stripe Hype during this offseason knows this writer is a proponent of drafting a defensive tackle early this year.  I’d be remiss though to not realize that this seems hardly “set in stone” for the Bengals in the upcoming draft.

This week, the Bengals re-signed Devon Still to a one-year contract.  His retention means the Bengals currently have five defensive tackles under contract: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Devon Still, and Kwame Geathers.  With the team only typically carrying four defensive tackles on the 53-man roster (and retaining one on the practice squad for emergencies), does this mean the Bengals may forego selecting a defensive tackle in the upcoming draft (or at least early on)?

All-Pro Geno Atkins headlines the group.  Obviously he will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.  Atkins has lacked a true counterpart since really emerging.  Having a capable nose tackle next to him would remove some pressure from the All-Pro who’s been double-teamed regularly since his breakout 2012 campaign.  More than this, Atkins is trying to recapture his 2012 form after tearing an ACL in 2013.  Finally giving Atkins a “partner in crime” at the tackle position would help him greatly.

Domata Peko has been the Bengals nose tackle since 2006.  He was once a solid nose tackle, and one who he helped Atkins find his dominant form.  Yet as good as Peko once was, those days seem firmly behind him now.  Many fans have even called for Peko’s head, but cutting a player simply isn’t the Bengals’ way.

Looking on the bright side, if Peko were to play less snaps in 2015, it may allow him to be more effective than he has been in recent years.  Over the past three years, Peko has averaged 658 snaps per season, which is 60.5% of the defense’s snaps over this time span.  This is a solid amount for a defensive tackle and may be too much for Peko.  But in order to decrease his snaps the Bengals must have another rotational player.  Could it be possible the Bengals believe they already have this player?

Behind the Bengals’ two defensive tackle starters from 2014 are Brandon Thompson and Devon Still.  The two came to the NFL via the 2012: Still in the second round and Thompson in the third.  Thompson has shown flashes of being able to get into the backfield and disrupt plays while also being able to withstand double teams.

Despite these flashes, it’s hard to judge how much promise Thompson actually possesses.  In typical Bengals fashion, Thompson’s rookie season (along with Still’s) was largely spent on the bench.  Thompson showed some real promise in 2013, probably even working himself past Still on the depth chart.  In 2014, he suffered a knee injury early in the year, which set Thompson back a bit for the year.  He still displayed his usual promise, but not much more than that.

Meanwhile, Thompson’s 2012 counterpart Devon Still is similarly difficult to judge.  His first year was a “red shirt” season, his second was marred by injury, and his third was spent largely focusing on his daughter’s treatment.  It remains to be seen whether Still will fulfill the promise he once offered.

The final tackle is Kwame Geathers, the brother of long-time Bengals defensive end Robert Geathers.  He’s a 6’6″, 335-pound tackle who spent his entire rookie season on the Chargers’ roster, but saw little action.  Prior to the start of his second season, Geathers suffered a knee injury, which eventually led to him being cut upon his recovery.  The Bengals subsequently signed him to their practice squad.  He’s a powerful nose tackle who withstands double teams and clogs running lanes effectively.

Can any of these three reserve players justify fewer snaps for Peko?  Can they really make the necessary impact on the field, consistently?

The Bengals are extremely loyal to their players.  They prefer to allow their guys to play out their contracts while offering them every opportunity to succeed.  Marvin Lewis recently commented on Devon Still and his opportunity going forward.

"“It’s great to have Devon back with us.  We know it has been a very difficult journey for him the last year. Devon remains focused on Leah’s recovery and on furthering his NFL career, and we’re excited to be able to provide that opportunity.”"

If this opportunity includes another year with the team, it’s hard to see the Bengals investing in another highly drafted tackle.  The five they have on the roster fill various different roles.  With such an eclectic group, it could be possible the team may be pleased with the group they have, as drafting another, especially early in the draft, would require cutting a player.  Other than Geathers, it’s hard to see the Bengals cutting any of their four regular roster players.  As of now, the defensive tackle group is undetermined, but much to the chagrin of many fans, drafting a new big man in the middle may not come as quickly as they may want.

Next: Post-Week One of Free Agency Mock Draft

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