After a productive offseason that saw the retooling of the secondary and a bolstering of the trenches, let’s look at what Cincinnati Bengals players have the most to prove in 2023.
Irv Smith Jr.
If the new Bengals tight end finds himself injured or having a non-productive season, he could be on his way out of the NFL. He showed flashes during his career in Minnesota but has only played in 37 games since being drafted in 2019.
If Smith Jr. follows in the steps of the two most recent Bengals tight ends, he will have a break-out season and sign a lucrative deal elsewhere. If he re-injures himself, he very well might be on the outs and might not get a second contract with the Bengals, or any other NFL team. They call one-year contracts a "prove-it deal" for a reason.
After a down year in 2022 due to injury and inconsistent play, Mixon has been criticized by fans and experts alike. Alleged legal issues also arose during the offseason, making his role with the team even murkier in 2022.
Zac Taylor has confirmed that Mixon is Cincinnati’s guy for this year, and at only 26 years old, he still has some gas in the tank. However, if Mixon underperforms again in 2023 and fifth-round back Chase Brown excels, the seven-year back might be in a predicament. He needs to be more explosive on early down plays, but most importantly, he needs to stay healthy and consistent. If not, he very well might be with a new team next season.
The Bengals selected Carman in the second round of the 2021 draft with the hopes that he could develop to be the bookend tackle of the future with Jonah Williams. Any Bengals fan watching games the past couple of years could tell you that Carman struggled with consistent play, strength, and giving up pass rushers too easily.
Carman has gotten his weight down before training camp and is currently competing for the right tackle spot with Jonah Williams until 2022 free against acquisition La’el Collins gets healthy. At 30 years old, Collins is a $9.3 million cap hit in 2023, meaning that if Carman outperforms the incumbent, the Bengals could save some room for Burrow’s contract.
La’el Collins has reportedly been playing well in camp, so Carman will have to be an immovable force on the right side of the line if he wants to be the future of the team.
If the rookie wide receiver underperforms, so what? He was only a fourth-round pick and would serve as a depth piece for a few years. However, if Jones can play at his ceiling when targeted, he could solidify himself as Tyler Boyd’s heir apparent.
Operating out of the slot, Jones had a productive senior season for the Boilermakers in 2022. He logged 12 touchdowns along with an impressive 1,361 yards. Chase and Higgins missed a combined six games this past season, and other receivers such as Trenton Irwin were called upon. If Jones can step up and translate his collegiate production into the NFL, Tyler Boyd could be on the trading block.
A member of the 2023 free agency class, Scott is coming from an average showing as a rotational player with the Rams. He is primed to line up as a starting safety in Week 1, but the Bengals also drafted a third-round safety in Jordan Battle.
At 28 years old, if Scott plays well enough to maintain his starting status, he could find a home in Cincinnati for a few more years. While Scott has praised Battle’s development in camp, the veteran will have to play the best football of his life if he wants to stave off the hungry rookie.