Bengals 53-man roster breakdown – Defense

With the roster deadline behind them, the Bengals appear to have their opening day lineup set.

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Aug 27, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Chris Smith (94) during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Chris Smith (94) during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

By 4:00 PM this past Saturday, each of the 32 NFL teams were down to 53 players on their roster. As per usual, more shuffling ensued later. Teams went through each other’s trimmings, upgrading positions where they could, moving other players to clear space, and assembling their practice squads. For the most part, as of Tuesday, teams will open the season with the players they have signed now.

With the cloud of dust surrounding the cut period cleared, the Bengals’ roster appears to be in pretty good shape. This is the second article of a two-part breakdown, going through the entire roster by position group.


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Defensive End

Roster: RDE: Michael Johnson, Jordan Willis; LDE: Carlos Dunlap, Chris Smith

The depth chart has the active defensive ends cleanly divided into two groups, but realistically they’ll show more variation. Dunlap is what some would call a dancing bear – he has an elite combination of size and lateral agility. He’s the established playmaker of this front, able to stop the run at the point of attack while also consistently producing sacks.

Johnson, the other base end, hasn’t shown consistent sack production but has done well batting passes and defending the run. These are skills that translate to other positions along the line, which provides versatility in sub packages. Between Smith, Willis and linebacker Carl Lawson, the Bengals have a stable of athletic edge rushers to rotate. This unit could rack up an impressive sack count given enough of the right situations over the season.

Defensive Tackle

Roster: DT: Geno Atkins, Ryan Glasgow; NT: Pat Sims, Andrew Billings
Practice Squad: Josh Tupou, DeShawn Williams

For whatever reason, Geno Atkins isn’t a name that every fan knows. Among peers at the same position, he doesn’t play in Aaron Donald’s big market or have Gerald McCoy’s loud personality. Regardless, heading into his eighth NFL season, he’s the quiet star of a defensive unit that has talent at every position.

Over at nose tackle, Pat Sims will fill in as the starter after nearly a decade of Domata Peko, who declined towards the end of his run. With his own contract up after this year, and now 31 himself, Sims will likely be free to go after 2017 with Billings waiting in the wings. A 2016 fourth-round pick, Billings is another Marvin Lewis draft pick that likely could start but is simply being hidden behind veterans until he has to.

Linebacker

Roster: SLB: Nick Vigil, Carl Lawson; MLB: Kevin Minter, Hardy Nickerson; WLB: Vincent Rey, Jordan Evans
Practice Squad: Brandon Bell
Reserve/Suspended: Vontaze Burfict

This unit is substantially better-looking with Burfict on the field. Minter is a veteran who called plays for Arizona’s defense – he’s not elite but he plays well in limited space and he can clean up behind an aggressive defensive front. When Burfict returns, he and Minter will likely be behind the line in nickel packages.

Elsewhere in the front: Lawson, as mentioned above, is likely more of a situational pass-rusher than a true linebacker. Vigil is a solid run defender, if a bit miscast on the strong side. Nickerson is the other undrafted free agent to make the roster (the first being Cethan Carter). Rey understands the position but fits athletically as a special teams player. Evans, a sixth-round pick, impressed in the offseason and is a name to track in the coming years.

Cornerback

Roster: Darqueze Dennard, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Shaw, William Jackson, KeiVarae Russell
Practice Squad: Sojourn Shelton
Reserve/Suspended: Adam Jones

With Adam Jones suspended for a game, the Bengals will be facing Joe Flacco in week 1 with only a stable of former first-round picks. Kirkpatrick is a quality starter, especially in press duties. Shaw, an undrafted player who plays special teams, has run hot and cold as a reserve corner. Dennard has yet to play extensively, especially as a boundary corner, but figures to get his chance sooner than later.

Russell is a high-upside player, having the press skills that the Bengals want from their outside corners while also having the utility to play nickel or safety. Having claimed him from waivers directly from Kansas City, Cincinnati committed themselves to his original third-round contract. That’s a strong statement with how crowded the Bengals’ depth chart is at corner; Russell’s usage should merit watching.

Safety

Roster: FS: George Iloka, Clayton Fejedelem; SS: Shawn Williams, Derron Smith
Practice Squad: Brandon Wilson

While injured recently, Iloka and Williams make for one of the best safety tandems in the league when healthy. At 27 and 26, both are in their physical primes and still young enough to grow as players. Iloka has the size of an elite box-safety enforcer type, yet plays more as a deep cover defender. Williams, with the physicality to play near the line, is still viable playing deep zone. This should allow for a great deal of versatility in how the two are deployed.

As with every position on the defense, Fejedelem and Smith have seen little action due to the veterans in front of them. Both are recent draft picks, and could certainly stick around but aren’t likely to become regular contributors soon. Wilson, a later draft pick with position versatility, was held out of the race for a roster spot for most of the offseason due to injury.

 

Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32

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