Bengals: With a smart draft, Zac Taylor can reshuffle the AFC North

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 01: (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 01: (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals appear to be giving second-year head coach Zac Taylor every opportunity to coach this team out of the AFC North cellar. Meaning, if he felt the pressure in 2019, he hasn’t seen anything yet.

The Cincinnati Bengals won’t often be confused with the regulars power players in the NFL. But after an inventive foray into free agency, they may be busting a mold of their own making.

The Bengals made some smart moves this week, as they added help on defense and for the offensive line. While the linebacker position still needs attention, Cincinnati stepped up, just as fans were beginning to pan what looked to be another lifeless effort to make needed improvements.

After sprinting to a 2-14 effort in 2019, the Bengals look to be on the rebound. So much so, that a targeted effort in the 2020 NFL Draft could launch Cincinnati to a remarkable turnaround. With the all but assured selection of quarterback Joe Burrow from LSU, and the first pick in the second round, things could get interesting in the AFC North.

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Thus far, both the Bengals and Ravens look to have made significant improvements. With Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP still under center, the addition of high profile DE Calais Campbell keeps Baltimore at the top of the heap. However, the Bengals may have made the moves to not just jump out of the division cellar, but challenge for .500 and possibly better. What they do next will dictate how good they can ultimately be.

With reports saying the Bengals made inquiries into the availability of Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a reasonable assumption can be made that, A. Cincinnati was willing to deal a significant topline player, and B. The recognition that offensive help to jump-start the Burrow era may be part of the early game plan come draft time. Either way, a clear signal was sent that business, as usual, was anything but business as usual.

One note, for Bengals fans hailing free agency akin to finding a shiny new bike under the Christmas tree, take a deep breath. Everything looks great on paper. If, and it’s a big IF, the Bengals have finally found the road map to climb out of last place in the division, one unknown variable could be second-year head coach Zac Taylor.

Taylor won’t escape scrutiny in another lost season. With the coming addition of Burrow and opportunities in the draft, the return of A.J. Green, and a full head of steam, a.500 record is the new baseline. Under 8-8 with this roster likely means the Bengals are devoid of a legitimate head coach. Better than 8-8 and Cincinnati could develop as a realistic threat to Baltimore in the AFC North.

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If Taylor thought 2-14 was a tough go in 2019, try anything less than 8-8 with talent on the roster in 2020. That said, credit the organization for giving him the tools to lift the Bengals out of the doldrums of the division.