Cincinnati Bengals’ Defense Lacking Young Talent

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Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) and strong safety Shawn Williams (36) in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) and strong safety Shawn Williams (36) in the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers won 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /
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Young defensive talent is a key component of success in the NFL. Are the Bengals a prime candidate to be stranded by their defense in the years to come?

Look around the league. Check out the best teams. Even the good teams. Even the less-than-good but still slightly promising teams. What do you see? Young stars on defense.

Ray Lewis was once famously quoted, “Defense wins championships.” It’s true. With the exception of this past year’s Atlanta Falcons, think back through the teams playing for the Lombardi in recent years. The Patriots, Seahawks, Panthers, and Broncos have made up seven of the past eight Super Bowl teams. While the Patriots’ defense isn’t regularly labeled ‘elite,’ they routinely rank highly in points allowed and turnover differential (1st and 3rd last year).

If the list gets expanded to just playoff teams, add the Texans, Chiefs, Steelers, Cardinals, Packers and Vikings to the list. Aside from the Packers (no team with Aaron Rodgers really needs anything else), each one of those teams has a great defense keeping them afloat. And for all of them, it started with capitalizing on young talent.

Take the Texans, for instance. One of the best defensive units in the league, they’ve built a consistent playoff contender through the draft. Last year, despite one of the worst offenses in the league and the loss of JJ Watt, the Texans made it to January football. They did so by means of AJ Bouye, Benardrick McKinney, and Jadeveon Clowney, all of whom are 25 or under.

Cincinnati Bengals' Defense Lacking Young Talent
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

This story isn’t unique. The Vikings did it too. They had Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith. The Broncos did it a few years ago with Von Miller, Brandon Marshall, and Chris Harris, Jr. The Seahawks did it a few before that with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor. There’s a formula for success, but unfortunately, the Bengals haven’t found it.

AFC North

The real danger, though, is that they may be the only one in their division that hasn’t. With Stephon Tuitt, Artie Burns, and Ryan Shazier, the Steelers may have the future of the franchise drafted already. Burns was inconsistent, but had his moments; alternatively, Shazier and Tuitt were at times no less than dominant. Shazier could be the greatest linebacker this side of Luke Kuechly.

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The Ravens and Browns aren’t quite as close, but both have an integral piece of the puzzle—a dominant linebacker. The Ravens’ CJ Mosley looks to be the successor to Terrell Suggs, while Jamie Collins could be the best linebacker in modern Browns history. On top of that, the Browns also have 22 picks to work with in the next two drafts. This could spell trouble for the Bengals barring a defensive breakthrough in the near future.

Solutions

The Bengals have a lot of problems that need addressing, so it’s hard to say they need to take a defensive player early in the draft. But that may be the only solution. Reuben Foster looks particularly enticing at the number nine spot, but beyond that, it’s hard to say.

Next: Cincinnati Bengals: 2017 Takeaways And Draft Strategy

The Bengals could also forego taking the Alabama LB early if their in-house talent from last year’s draft looks ready to make the leap. Andrew Billings and William Jackson III were both cast as difference-making rookies before injuries derailed their NFL premier. Couple those healthy sophomores with Dre Kirkpatrick, Vontaze Burfict, and Carlos Dunlap, and the Bengals could bring back their winning ways in Cincinnati.

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