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Bengals 53-man roster predictions: Defensive Line

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CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 14: Chris Smith #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates with Carlos Dunlap #96 and Carl Lawson #58 after a sack against the Houston Texans during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on September 14, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 14: Chris Smith #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates with Carlos Dunlap #96 and Carl Lawson #58 after a sack against the Houston Texans during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on September 14, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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The Cincinnati Bengals have a strong and deep defensive line unit going into the 2018 season. Who will make the roster and how much will it change?

The Cincinnati Bengals have a strong group along the defensive line, a group that has been the backbone of the team for many years. With stars line defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, it’s hard not to have success. Linebacker Carl Lawson was a primary focus last season as an edge rusher in his limited snaps but is on the roster as a linebacker so will not be part of this group.

Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are apparent players that will make the final roster and both are in a contract year. Cincinnati has expressed their desire to extend both players as they have been the key to their defensive success for many years. While both players are aging and hitting 30, neither shows signs of slowing down and deserve another payday. Dunlap held out of voluntary workouts until Wednesday of last week and is in attendance at mandatory minicamp this week.

Defensive end Michael Johnson is another player that will be playing out the final season of his contract. Johnson has shown some signs of aging but proved successful in a new role on the inside on passing downs last season. Johnson’s versatility and quickness on the inside will surely land him a spot on the roster. Given that it is also a contract season, I could see some more significant numbers coming out of Johnson this season.

Second-year defensive end Jordan Willis will likely take some of Johnson’s snaps at defensive end. Willis was a raw talent coming out of college that looks to have extremely high potential on the edge. Coaches have talked about not playing him enough last season and want to see more out of him in 2018. He proved dominant and quick against the run game when looking over his film and if he can generate a pass rush as well, he will be a great addition to the Bengals edge across from Dunlap.

Willis will likely rotate with Lawson on the edge in nickel and dime packages since Lawson will only be playing linebacker roles in the base 4-3 packages. Michael Johnson will take fewer snaps at defensive end and rookie defensive end Sam Hubbard will take some of those rotational snaps as well. Hubbard will likely pick up the snaps that Chris Smith is leaving behind.

At defensive tackle, you have your obvious starter in Geno Atkins, but the spot next to him remains up in the air. Teryl Austin has already talked about Michael Johnson getting more snaps there on passing downs but the team signed Chris Baker this offseason to provide more competition. That spot remains the weakness on the line and I expect Baker to get most of the snaps there in 2018.

We have yet to see much production from Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Billings, but I think Glasgow has the upper hand in making the roster. Billings had more snaps there last season but had less production. If he wants to make the team, he will have to impress in training camp and preseason. Here’s who I have making the team:

Carlos Dunlap

Michael Johnson

Jordan Willis

Sam Hubbard

Geno Atkins

Chris Baker

Ryan Glasgow

Andrew Brown

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Obviously, Lawson will take a considerable amount of snaps opposite of Dunlap, but Willis is going to see an uptick in snaps. Hubbard will likely play a limited role his rookie season. Baker will be the starter next to Atkins with Glasgow backing up both of them. Rookie Andrew Brown will probably see time when Atkins comes off the field as they are a similar style of players but will play an insufficient role as a fifth-round pick.

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