5 most important players on Bengals roster who are not starters
1. D’Ante Smith, Offensive Tackle
This may seem out of left field but hear me out. For the past several years, the weak link of the team has been the offensive line; Anyone with eyeballs could see that and the presumption in Bengaldom seems to be that, given the spending spree this offseason, the team “fixed” that problem.
While I don’t deny that signing Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins plugged a lot of holes, I’m still not totally comfortable with what we’ve got along the offensive line (count me among those who would like to see a return of Riley Reiff for depth).
The team is still incredibly thin at the offensive line spots behind the starters (and arguably even the starting spot at left guard), and you’re tempting fate if you think you’re going to go into a season without suffering any injuries at all along the offensive line.
Plus, the starters haven’t been the model of health.
Right tackle La’el Collins hasn’t played a full season since 2018 and has only played in 12 of 33 games (36%) the past two seasons. Left tackle Jonah Williams has struggled with injuries since entering the league, missing the entirety of his rookie year and more than a third of his sophomore campaign.
Long story short, there’s a decent chance that an offensive tackle is going to miss time, and I don’t trust Isaiah Prince and his 58.0 PFF grade to fill the void. Although Smith graded slightly worse, he was a rookie in 2021, and they had him playing out of position at guard.
Moving Smith back to his more natural position of tackle is likely to increase his productivity. The guy has pterodactyl-like 35” arms, which is a trait shared by many of the top tackles in the league. He was seen as a raw prospect coming out of East Carolina, but after one year in the system, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see some improvement.
It would not be at all surprising to see him get some meaningful snaps this season as Joe Burrow’s blindside protector or as a fill-in for Collins on the right side. As we all saw in the Super Bowl, this team can only succeed if Burrow is kept upright.