There’s simply no way around it: The Bengals desperately need help in run defense. So while trading your franchise quarterback of 9 years for a defensive tackle may not be the flashiest move, it may be the smartest, given the Bengals will be able to select Joe Burrow.
Bilal Nichols will be entering his third year in 2020. After being selected in the fifth round, he had an outstanding rookie year, earning a 76.4 season grade from Pro Football Focus in a rotational role.
In addition, he was a top-50 run defender in his first season in the NFL, making a stop on 8.7% of his run defense snaps. For a Bengals defense that ranked last in rush defense, adding Nichols could be a great first step to stopping opposing rushing attacks.
He was thrust in the starting lineup in his second campaign due to injuries. He struggled, earning a grade of 51.9, but that can be chalked up to the fact that he played most of the season with a broken hand.
With star defensive tackle Akiem Hicks returning from injury for the Bears, Chicago may be willing to let Nichols go, despite his potential.
The Bengals have last year’s starter, Andrew Billings, hitting free agency this off-season. If they’re unable to re-sign him, acquiring Nichols makes even more sense.
Placing the 23-year-old next to Geno Atkins, who will command double teams, should only make Nichols stand out even more than he did as a rookie. His affordable cap hit of just $734,870 is just icing on the cake.