The Bengals added two defensive players during free agency. The additions of linebacker A.J. Hawk and defensive end Michael Johnson will provide the veteran support the team lacked last season. Hawk slots in as a potential starter/backup who can play every linebacker position while Johnson will start at defensive end.
The addition of Johnson will likely change the Bengals’ draft strategy, as they will no longer “need” to grab a pass rusher in the first two rounds. What they will need to do is fill some holes on the depth chart and build up a couple positions as the roster prepares for the phasing out of some veterans in 2016. Here is a look at the Bengals’ depth chart on the defensive side of the ball.
[table id=95 /]
On paper, the defense looks ready to go, but keep in mind this is a unit that was last in the NFL in sacks last year and looked to be “stuck in mud” during several games. For some reason the team is reluctant to offer rookies the opportunity to contribute much, so most of the selections will be aimed at addressing depth on all three levels.
It has become clear that the Bengals needs to phase out Domata Peko who has been one of best locker room guys, but concurrently, one of the worst 4-3 defensive tackles the last two years. Some believe he should be released immediately. The first round will prove to be about value, as first round defensive tackles, outside of the top 15, just don’t seem to live up to their first round billing.
At linebacker, I feel like the Bengals finally need to draft a mainstay and stop relying on undrafted free agents. It was clear last year that Emmanual Lamur is better suited to be a role player rather than a starting NFL linebacker. But according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, the organization feels differently.
"“I just don’t see them taking a linebacker in the first round. Maybe ever again. The position just doesn’t match the value. Look at the 12 drafts of The Marvin Era.They’ve taken two linebackers in the first round and one was a college defensive end who was a projection (David Pollack) and the other (Keith Rivers) was their last option of the top nine guys in the draft. Plus, both played outside.Even B.M. (Before Marv), the last time they took a linebacker who played some inside was in 1998 when they took both Takeo Spikes (13) and Brian Simmons (17) in the first round and that’s because they played a 3-4. Both were special guys who could also play outside in a 4-3.The last linebacker they drafted in the first round who primarily played inside was Joe Kelly in 1986, but that was in a 3-4. So I just don’t see them talking a backer in the first, or even the second, frankly.”"
Despite recently using two first round selections on corners (2012 and 2014), the secondary still needs some youth. Leon Hall can’t be relied on to start more then a few games, as he’s seemingly lost the suddenness that once made him such a solid slot corner. Reggie Nelson will be 32 this coming season and is a free agent after this year. He is still an effective player, but there is nothing behind him on the depth chart. George Iloka heads into the final year of his rookie deal and will be a priority when the team starts re-signing players.
The Bengals need to upgrade the defense in several ways. With nine selections in April’s draft, they will have every opportunity to do so.
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