You’ve seen all our positional projections – now we are tying it all together. Today, we project the Bengals final defensive roster.
We did final offensive projections for the roster a few days ago, so it’s time for defense. Defense has been a strong point for the Bengals in recent years. However, the unit hasn’t been the same the last couple seasons. I attribute some of those failures to former DC Paul Guenther, but there were injuries and age as well. Now, with everyone healthy and an infusion of young talent, the defense should be strong once again.
Defensive Line: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Chris Baker, Michael Johnson
Linebacker: Vontaze Burfict, Preston Brown, Nick Vigil
Secondary: William Jackson III, George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Dre Kirkpatrick
These starters should look very familiar to Bengals fans, just like the offense. 9 of these 11 starters played last season on the team, and most of them started. The only new faces are Chris Baker and Preston Brown. Baker is a great complement to Atkins as a nose tackle, and Brown gives the Bengals a perfect middle linebacker.
The other notable thing about the starters is that they are veteran-heavy. Johnson, Baker, and Vigil are starters who have more experience than their backup counterparts, but may be less talented. In fact, the only reason Baker and Vigil are starting is because of their positional fit. Baker is a better nose tackle than Ryan Glasgow, and Vigil is a better run stopper and pass protector than Carl Lawson.
Defensive Line: Dunlap, Atkins, Baker, Johnson, Jordan Willis, Sam Hubbard, Ryan Glasgow, Andrew Brown
Linebacker: Burfict, Brown, Vigil, Carl Lawson, Vincent Rey, Malik Jefferson, Jordan Evans
Cornerback: Jackson III, Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, KeiVarae Russell, Darius Phillips, Davontae Harris
Safety: Iloka, Williams, Jessie Bates II, Clayton Fejedelem, Josh Shaw, Brandon Wilson
This defense as a whole really tantalizes me. There is a ton of youth and potential waiting in the wings on this Bengals team. Along the defensive line, Willis is just one year away from assuming Johnson’s starting role, and Hubbard is already a rotation pass rusher. On the inside, Glasgow and Brown are both really solid three and five-technique tackles. All of them should see the field this season.
At linebacker, Lawson appears to have been left out of the starters. This is only because I don’t expect Lawson to “start.” He’s one of the better pass rushers in the league, but he can’t play all three downs because he lacks in run defense. However, Lawson will still be a monster this season. Rey and Evans are solid depth, and Jefferson is one season away from starting as well.
The secondary is my favorite part of the Bengals defense, though. Aside from Jackson and Kirkpatrick, Dennard is one of the best slot corners in the NFL. Russell, in his third season, may finally have a breakout. Phillips and Harris are both fifth round rookies who bring different but useful skills to the table.
At safety, Bates is going to have a really fun role. He will see the field in three safety sets, as well as spelling Iloka or Williams when the Bengals need a pure free safety. Fejedelem, Shaw, and Wilson are very versatile backups who can do a lot for the team.
Overall, I expect the Bengals to have a defensive resurgence this season. I believe this unit will finish in the top 12 in the NFL in points allowed and sacks. There should also be more turnovers this year for a team that lacked that statistic last season. Under the guidance of Teryl Austin, the Bengals could have a very fun defense.