And just like that, the Cincinnati Bengals season ends with a disappointing thud, this time before the start of the playoffs. This marks the first time the Bengals haven't played deep into January since 2020, which was Joe Burrow's rookie season when he missed the back half of the year due to an injury.
Although there is technically one more game (one which neither side really has anything to play for), with Cincinnati eliminated from playoff contention the season is over and it's time to look into the future toward the off-season and what 2024 will hopefully bring.
One thing you can look forward to and make predictions on is the personnel we could see starting on the field next season. While there will be several new faces from free agency and the draft, there are a few players already on the team who have made enough of an impact to be considered as a full-time starter for next year, either impressing when a player has gone down or being part of a solution to a fatal flaw.
So, here are three Bengals who will look to prove that they belong as starters in 2024.
While the Irv Smith Jr. signing turned out to be a major disappointment, the Bengals managed to stumble upon someone who could produce at the tight end position early on in the season. While Hudson looked impressive in the preseason, he ultimately started the season on the practice squad.
It wasn't until Week 3, in their Monday night matchup vs. the Rams, that Hudson would get his first shot. He got off to a good start in his first game, with two receptions for 30 yards, including a 26-yard haul.
Although he is currently third out of the four main tight ends on the depth chart in snap count (which, considering there is only one game left, is probably going to remain true), only beating out Mitchell Wilcox, it was abundantly clear that Hudson had become the main weapon at the tight end position. He currently sits at 341 receiving yards on the season, which is more than Wilcox, Sample, and Smith Jr. combined and that was just in 11 games.
While the front office should still approach this position in either free agency or the draft given Smith will probably not be re-signed and Sample is more renowned for his blocking than his pass-catching, it shouldn't be a top priority like many considered it to be earlier in the season.
There should be some competition for the position and just another reliable pass-catcher in there like Hudson since the 'tight end by committee' method appeared to work better than having a sole starter, but Hudson will be looking to prove himself as the number one guy in that department and should stand to earn a bigger role next season.