The Cincinnati Bengals have needs on offense and defense. However, with a talent-rich receiving class in the 2020 NFL Draft, pass-catchers should be at the top of the list.
Among many fans and media alike, the narrative surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals is that improving their offensive line should be the top priority on offense this offseason. While the line could certainly use some improvement, the team’s biggest priority on the offensive side of the ball should be at the wide receiver position.
This may come as news to many. After all, the Bengals have Tyler Boyd, and A.J. Green is expected to be franchise tagged if not signed to a longterm deal. While both Boyd and Green are very good receivers in their own rights, Boyd is much better as a second option and Green is an uncertainty with his history of injuries.
Behind Green and Boyd, the Bengals have John Ross and Auden Tate. Ross showed flashes in his first year with head coach Zac Taylor but failed to prove he could remain healthy for an entire season. Tate is a walking highlight reel, making impressive catches left and right. However, he has not yet shown that he can be a consistent focal point on offense. As it stands, Tate is a good third or fourth option, but can’t be trusted to step up should Green or Boyd suffer an injury.
The Bengals were poor on offense in 2019 in large part due to a decimated wide receiver group. Green spent the entire season out with injury, Ross missed a large portion of the year, and even Tate missed games towards the end. With Boyd often being the only healthy receiver of importance, the passing game suffered. Even when Ross and Tate were healthy, without Green the team struggled to succeed through the air.
When the passing game faltered due to a lack of receivers, the running game was hurt as a result. Without receivers to keep the defense honest, teams were able to focus their gameplans on stopping running back Joe Mixon. Both halves of the Bengals’ offense struggled due to their lack of depth at receiver, they will need to fix that in 2020.
Additionally, the offensive line is in better shape than its’ critics give it credit for. Trey Hopkins earned the team’s starting center job in 2019 and showed himself to be a valuable asset, earning himself a 3 year, $20.4M contract this offseason. Rookie guard Michael Jordan had growing pains in his first year as a pro, but the coaching staff has a lot of faith in him and expect him to be a part of the team’s starting lineup going forward. Fred Johnson impressed towards the end of the season and will likely compete with Bobby Hart for the right tackle spot in 2020.
Along with these three players to feel positive about, Jonah Williams will be healthy this season. Williams was the Bengals’ first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and was the first offensive lineman taken in the entire class. The Alabama product is expected to take the starting left tackle job immediately and should be the team’s best offensive lineman right off the bat.
The Bengals are expected to take LSU quarterback Joe Burow with the first pick in the NFL Draft. While the front office will surely want to give him both better weapons and an improved line, they should be more focused on getting him more depth at the wide receiver position. Burrow showed in 2019 that he is great at escaping pressure and making plays on the move, so the Bengals’ offensive line will not be as detrimental to his play as it was to Andy Dalton.
In his championship run with LSU, Burrow was surrounded by elite weapons. Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Thaddeus Moss were just a few of the players Burrow had at his disposal. If the Bengals hope to replicate Burrow’s college success, they will want to surround him with weapons just like LSU did.
So who could the Bengals target to add to the wide receiver room? The 2020 NFL Draft is loaded with receivers, so it would be smarter for the team to target the position in the draft as opposed to spending big money on one in free agency. The 2nd-4th rounds of the draft are loaded with players that could fill the need in Cincinnati.
Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims is a name to look at. Mims is a 6-foot-3 prospect who ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash. In addition to his unique blend of size and speed, he has a wild catch radius. Pairing Mims with Green would give the Bengals two big receivers who can go up and make contested catches. Defenses would struggle to defend the two of them.
Jalen Reagor out of TCU is another player to watch out for. Reagor is a speedster who can be a dangerous vertical threat in the NFL. He is also dangerous with the ball in his hands. The Bengals could rotate Reagor and John Ross to ensure that there is always speed on the field and that the latter can stay fresh and healthy.
Mims and Reagor are just a couple of the receivers who may be available after the first round. Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, and K.J. Hamler are a few more intriguing players who will likely be on the board for Cincinnati on Day 2.
The Bengals have many needs in the 2020 offseason, but they will have to choose which needs are the most pressing. The front office should decide that surrounding Joe Burrow with more receivers is the most important thing on offense, especially considering the strength of the 2020 Draft class.