The Bengals have reached a transitional period on defense. With Coach Marvin Lewis gone they are taking on a new identity. Who on the team is worth rostering for fantasy.
Marvin Lewis was a great defensive coach, that is about it. He had a lengthy tenure with the Bengals but that reign has ended. The team is now taking on a new identity. Former stars, like the talented but much maligned Vontaze Burfict, as well as Michael Johnson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and George Iloka have moved on to new teams. All of those players were part of helping make this defense a feared one. Even those who remain are aging like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. With new personnel on the squad, lets take a look the Cincinnati Bengals roster tiers.
Tier 1- Draft Targets
Jessie Bates III- Safety
2018 Stats: 111 tackles (73 solo), seven passes defended, three interceptions and a touchdown.
Jessie Bates III is coming off a spectacular rookie season. The Bengals selected him in the 2nd round and 54th overall in the 2018 draft out of Wake Forest. The Bengals paired him with Shawn Williams and the duo combined for 221 total tackles. Bates led the team in tackles with 111, one more than his running mate.
There are many things that Bates does well. He is great at reading routes and is a sound tackler. His coverage skills are sound as well. Look here at some of the highlights from Bates’ rookie season.
The Bengals found a foundational player in round two last year. As a rookie, there were a few games where Jessie Bates looked like their best defensive player. pic.twitter.com/NHPXglbZ87
— JG (@JoeGoodberry) May 26, 2019
He will be one of the Bengals best defenders for years to come.
2019 Projected Stats: 122 tackles, two tackles for a loss, 14 passes defended, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.
Shawn Williams- Safety
2018 Stats: 110 tackles (81 solo), two tackles for a loss, one sack, nine passes defended, five interceptions, one forced fumble and a touchdown.
Shawn Williams enjoyed a breakout year in 2018. He blew away his previous career high in tackles of 81 by totaling 110. He also almost doubled his career high in passes defended, previously five but had nine in 2018. Williams also set a career highwith five interceptions, 3rd most of any safety behind Damontae Kazee (7) and Eddie Jackson (6).
Shawn Williams has always shown great playmaking ability having 11 interceptions in four seasons. He is great with the ball in his hands as well as you see here, he makes a great interception and takes it to the house:
Bengals take a 7-0 lead on Shawn Williams pick-six. pic.twitter.com/h8xDKpQhAj
— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 30, 2018
Both Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates III had great tackle numbers and that was large in part to a weak linebacker corps. The Bengals linebacker corps remained the same outside of rookie 3rd rounder Germaine Pratt. I fully expect the safety tandem to eat again in 2019.
2019 Projected Stats: 107 total tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, one sack, nine passes defended, three interceptions, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.
Tier 2- Depth Players
Nick Vigil- Linebacker
2018 Stats: 84 tackles (62 solo), five tackles for a loss, three passes defended and a fumble recovery. (11 games)
Nick Vigil himself was enjoying a breakout year at the beginning of 2018. In the first five games of the season he was one of the top tacklers in the NFL. He totaled 49 tackles in his first five games. He was then injured in his sixth game and was not able to play again until the Bengals 12th game of the season. Between games 12-15 he only averaged four tackles per game not looking like himself.
One thing that separates Vigil from the other Bengals linebackers is his ability to cover. He shows well in both zone coverage as well as man coverage on screen plays:
Nick Vigil (59) in Zone coverage pic.twitter.com/5ecqlzsWnJ
— clips (@Burner4JG) July 13, 2018
Vigil has had some trouble staying healthy the past two seasons and that is what drops him to the tier level two for me. If he can play a full season like he started 2018, he could slide right into that tier level one.
2019 Projected Stats: 94 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, eight passes defended, one interception and two forced fumbles.
Geno Atkins- Defensive Tackle
2018 Stats: 45 tackles (24 solo), 13 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
Geno Atkins has been a staple of the Bengals defense for nine years now totaling 71 sacks and 96 tackles for a loss in those nine seasons. Though he is going into his age 31 season he has not shown much sign of decline. In 2018 he had double-digit sacks and 13 tackles for a loss as well as 19 QB hits. Atkins has a plethora of inside moves. Watch here as Deshaun Watson gets destroyed by Atkins:
Geno Atkins absolutely DESTROYED DeShaun Watson.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 15, 2017
When healthy, Atkins is a top 10-15 DT. If he gets adequate pass rush off of the edges he could move even higher. If Atkins was not aging he would be a tier one DT but he is going to be 31 this year and that does not bode too well for most defensive lineman.
2019 Projected Stats: 47 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and one forced fumble.
Carlos Dunlap- Defensive End
2018 Stats: 47 tackles (31 solo), eight tackles for a loss, eight sacks, eight passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Carlos Dunlap was looking like a top 10 DE during the first half of the season. In the first eight games he had 27 tackles, seven sacks, five passes defended and two forced fumbles. In the last eight games he tailed off and newcomer Sam Hubbard stole some of his thunder. During those eight games he totaled 20 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, three passes defended and a forced fumble. Each half of the season tells a different story.
One thing Dunlap does better than most DE’s is deflecting passes. Watch here as he gets his hands up and deflects the pass and comes up with the pick six:
— NFL (@NFL) October 29, 2017
Carlos Dunlap signed a three-year extension that keeps him with the team through 2022. It seemed as though he ran out of gas in the second half of the season and the production came from Sam Hubbard. Dunlap is still a starting defensive end for the Bengals across from other youngster Jordan Willis. Hubbard will be breathing down Dunlap’s neck for playing time which is why he is tier two.
2019 Projected Stats: 45 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, seven passes defended and two forced fumbles.
Tier 3- Rotational Players
Preston Brown- Linebacker
2018 Stats: 42 tackles (27 solo), four passes defended and two interceptions. (7 games)
In Brown’s four seasons previous to his 2018 campaign he was a tackle machine. In those four seasons he totaled 505 tackles, an average of about 126 per season including a league leading 144 in 2017. Brown seemed like a top free agent signing to pair up with at the time suspended Vontaze Burfict. He was more or less mediocre in his brief stint starting with the Bengals having been outshined by incumbent Nick Vigil.
Brown is returning to the Bengals after signing a second contract with the team. I do believe if he stays healthy that he can make a significant impact on the team as long as they let him continue to start. Part of why I think his season start did not go as planned is that he dropped in coverage a lot, though he did come up with 4 passes defended and two interceptions like the one seen here:
pResTon bROwn dOESn’T mAke biG pLAys pic.twitter.com/iDbrF00vgK
— Dadio Makdook (@dadiodefacto) September 9, 2018
If Brown can get back to form from his Buffalo days than he can vault himself into LB2 consideration.
2019 Projected Stats: 85 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, six passes defended and one interception.
Team IDP Sleeper
Sam Hubbard- Defensive End
2018 Stats: 39 tackles (27 solo), seven tackles for a loss, six sacks, two passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Sam Hubbard had a quiet yet very successful rookie campaign. He put up very comparable numbers to veteran Carlos Dunlap without even recording a single start. Hubbard came on strong at the end of the season having four sacks in his last seven games. He showed great use of his hands coming off the edge as you see here:
Sam Hubbard with an early sack today.pic.twitter.com/txP0rbu4zo
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) December 16, 2018
If Hubbard can build off how he finished 2018 then I think he could quickly push Dunlap for snaps.
2019 Projected Stats: 49 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four passes defended and two forced fumbles.
There are not really any top-level IDP options on this team outside of the safety tandem of Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams. The aging line stays in the second tier for this team with Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins still putting out solid production. The second tier also includes Nick Vigil who has the potential for a breakout but I need to see him do it for a full season. Preston Brown is the lone tier three option as if the Bengals allow him the playing time he can be productive.
The Bengals are in a sort of rebuild so they may see what they have in some of their younger players, even though Brown himself is only going to be 27. One player to keep your eyes on is Sam Hubbard as I think he is the future on the edge for the Bengals and may push for snaps as soon as this coming season.
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