The Bengals brought in Zac Taylor to hopefully save the sliding franchise in 2019. Over his first two seasons, Cinci continued on their downward path with a 6-25-1. Taylor helped Jared Goff make a step forward as the Rams' quarterbacks coach in 2018. He has seven seasons of coaching experience with his highest-ranking job before signing with Bengals, coming as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator in 2015.
Taylor drafted a franchise quarterback in 2019, and Cincinnati paired him with two elite young wide receivers over the last two drafts. Joe Burrow flashed in his rookie season, but he missed the final six games with a torn left ACL that required surgery.
Last year Cincinnati finished 29th in the league in offensive yards gained and 29th in points scored (311).
The Bengals brought in Brian Callahan to run the offense in 2020. Over the previous three years, Callahan worked as the quarterback coach from the Raiders and the Lions. He has 10 seasons of experience in the NFL at the age of 36.
Lou Anarumo had been a coach in the NFL since 2012 (nine seasons) while working as a defensive back coach every year except a few games as the interim defensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2015. Anarumo spent over 20 years coaching in college, with his highest job coming as the defensive backs coach for Purdue for eight seasons.
In his second year as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, he inched to 26th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed (424). His window will be short if Cinci doesn't show growth on the defensive side of the ball this season.
The first order of business for the Bengals' second in free agency was to address the cornerback position. They signed CB Mike Hilton and CB Chidobe Awuzie while losing CB William Jackson to Washington.
Hilton does most of his work in slot coverage, where he limits receivers to short yards per catch and minimal damage in touchdowns allowed. His play against the run regressed over the past two seasons due to some missed tackles.
Awuzie missed seven games last year with a hamstring injury, plus another due to a Covid issue. In 2018 and 2019, as a full-time starter for the Cowboys, he allowed many big plays while being a league-average player.
Jackson has been up and down over the past three seasons. When at his best, he held wide receivers to short yards per catch, but he did make some mistakes over the long field.
Overall, Cinci improved slightly with these three moves.
DE Carl Lawson signed with the Jets. Early in his career, he flashed upside rushing the quarterback. His game faded over the past two years while not offering an edge against the run.
The Bengals brought in DE Trey Hendrickson after showing growth over the past two years. Last year he set a career-high in sacks (13.5), which landed him a four-year deal.
Riley Reiff has a long career of shining in pass protection while grading a neutral player in the run game. This year he shifts to right tackle for Cincinnati.
WR A.J. Green struggled last year, which led to him signing with the Cardinals. He'll start the year at age 33.
Cinci brought in DT Larry Ogunjobi to work as a rotational player against the run. He flashed a high ceiling rushing the quarterback in 2018 and 2019 (11 combined sacks).
With the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bengals gave Joe Burrow his partner in crime in the passing game at LSU by adding WR Ja'Marr Chase.
He comes to the NFL with some concern with his route running and ability to beat the press vs. top physical cornerbacks. I don't view either opinion or thought as an issue. Chase will work the short areas of the field to be a chain mover on quick slants, comebacks, and crossing patterns. LSU used him on bubble screens and deep end cuts showing his versatility to make plays in the passing game. He'll need to fine-tune some areas of his game at the next level. Chase works hard while owning the movements to shine all over the field.
G Jackson Carman was the choice in the second round. He'll solidify the pass protection at guard while relying on his vision and hands to create wins early after the snap. Carmen needs to improve his footwork when asked to work outside his zone and develop his technique when missing on his first punch.
The Bengals bought into the hard-working, attacking ceiling of Joseph Ossia in the pass rush. He has a linebacker build, which hurts his ability to win at the line of scrimmage if matched up with power blockers. His quickness doesn't create early wins, but Ossia has a variety of moves to cause havoc in the pass rush. His next area of growth should come in run support.
In the fourth round, Cincinnati added DE Cameron Sample, Tyler Shelvin, and OT D'Ante Smith.
Sample brings a drop and drive feel to the pass rush, where his first step, hands, and power lead to early wins. Unfortunately, the caboose doesn't have the finishing speed to be a difference-maker in space or create a high volume of sacks. Part of his dilemma is a tweener skill set for his size (6'3" and 265 lbs.). With more bulk, Sample would be more versatile to a defense.
Shelvin will have one job to do with the Bengals. He must clog the middle of the line as a run stopper on early downs. His range is limited, with minimal chance of seeing action on passing downs without improving his endurance and body. Shelvin plays with power and the vision and understanding of upcoming blocks.
Smith has the look of an undervalued offensive lineman. He has long arms, which helps his range and ability to keep defenders at a distance. His feel, rhythm, and quickness project well, but Smith can't reach his ceiling without getting stronger and adding more bulk. He struggles with power, and his anticipation in one-on-one battles needs to have better foresight.
Cinci took a flier on K Evan McPherson in the fifth round. Over three seasons at Florida, he made 85.0 percent of his field goal chances while showing the leg to kick from long range (5-for-8).
Their final three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft were C Trey Hill (6.6), RB Chris Evans (6.18), and DE Wyatt Hubert (7.7).
Hill earns his keep with his size (6'4" and 320 lbs.) and power. His range and technique are trailing while offering the ability to play guard. His battles often end up in a standstill, which requires a fast-hitting run game and his quarterback to get the ball out quickly.
With a missed season (suspension) in 2019 and minimal playing time in 2020, Evans doesn't have the stats to showcase his overall talents. His vision and pass-catching talent grade well while also having the blocking skills to handle pass protection responsibilities.
Hubert plays hard with the ability to win off the snap. Attacking the quarterback is the key to his game, but his recovery speed can lead to some mistakes and missed tackles when asked to be in chase mode. Offenses will use his aggression against him. Hubert doesn't have a deep toolbox, so his success comes from showing up on every play.
The Bengals ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,668) last season. They gained only 4.1 yards per carry with 13 rushing touchdowns and nine runs over 20 yards. Game score led to only 25.7 rushes per game.
Cinci finished with 3,793 yards passing (24th) with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 48 sacks for the second straight year.
LT Jonah Williams
Williams missed all of 2019 (drafted 11th overall) after tearing his labrum in his left shoulder in June, which required surgery. He came to the NFL with an excellent combination of technique, athletic ability, and work ethic. Williams projects to be a winning run blocker with success in pass protection. His next step is proving his worth defending speed/power rushers on the outside.
Over 10 games last season, Williams struggled in pass protection early while showing growth. He missed six games with a neck issue and right knee injury. His run blocking came in below his expected value. Cinci needs Williams to play up to his first-round talent in 2021 to help improve Joe Burrow's passing window.
LG Jackson Carman
Carman played left tackle in college, but he should slide inside for the Bengals. His pass protection skills are advanced, which points to Cincinnati solidifying the left side of their line. Carman also adds insurance for Johan Williams.
C Trey Hopkins
After a semi-starting role in 2017 and 2018, Hopkins emerged as the top option at center for Cincinnati over the past two seasons. His game remains a liability in the run blocking while regressing in pass protection in 2020. His season ended last year in Week 17 with a torn ACL in his left knee. Hopkins might not be ready for the start of the season.
RG Xavier Su'a-Filo
The Bengals signed Su'a-Filo to a three-year contract in March of 2020. An ankle injury cost him 10 games starting in Week 2. His play in pass protection shined late in the season, but Su'a-Filo never found his rhythm in the run game. His ceiling is low, so Cincinnati will look to upgrade this position in the summer camp battles.
RT Riley Reiff
Reiff found a new home in the offseason after starting for the Lions and Vikings over nine seasons. His floor has been high in pass protection throughout his career while trending backward in run blocking over the past three years.
Cincinnati should have three assets on their offensive line. If they can find league-average play at center and right guard, the Bengals should rank much better on the offensive line in 2021.
Last year Cinci ran the ball 41.4 percent of the time. Their coaching staff wants to pass the ball, and they have the quarterback and wide receivers to do it well in 2021. The run game should naturally improve with more offensive chances
The Bengals gave Burrow plenty of passing chances over his first seven games. He averaged 41.9 pass attempts per game over this span, leading to five games with over 300 yards passing (316/3, 312/2, 300/1, 313/0, and 406/3). He completed 18 passes over 20 yards with value in the run game (32/121/1).
His play regressed over his final three starts (249/2, 213/1, and 203/1) before blowing out his ACL in his left knee that required surgery.
After struggling to earn a starting job for Ohio State, Burrow made the jump to LSU in 2018. His play that season was below par, which led to a low completion rate (57.8) and only 16 passing touchdowns over 13 games. He finished with 2,894 yards passing with some value as a runner (128/399/7) while minimizing the damage in his mistakes throwing the ball (five Ints).
His rags to riches story in 2019 ended with a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Burrow lit the college world on fire at the quarterback positions. His completion rate (76.3) was off the charts great, which led to 5,671 passing yards and an astounding 60 passing touchdown and only six interceptions. Burrow chipped in 368 yards on the ground on 115 carries (3.2 yards per rush) and five more touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: The Bengals gave Burrow his stud wide receiver at LSU in this year's draft, which sets up an exciting opportunity for their passing game. Cincinnati expects him to be ready for Week 1. Last year he was on pace for 4,528 combined yards with 26 touchdowns. Burrow is the 13th quarterback drafted in mid-May, which projects him as value. This season he'll gain over 5,000 combined yards with a push toward 35 touchdowns. Burrow should be a targeted value quarterback this draft season.
Other Options: Brandon Allen, Kyle Shurmur, Eric Dungey
Williams lacks NFL size (5'8" and 206 lbs.), but he does run with power with sufficient speed (4.51 forty-yard dash). His short-area quickness isn't ideal, but he does run with patience and the ability to make defenders miss. Williams works hard in pass protection with value in the passing game. His one lacking trait is vision in tightly blocked plays.
He didn't have a single touch in his rookie season with only minimal opportunity in 2020 (187 combined yards with five catches).
Last year the Bengals' running backs gained 2,022 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 84 catches. Their back gained only 4.1 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per catch. With a better offensive line and more weapons in the passing game, Cinci should be better at running the ball in 2021 with a bump in catches.
After a slow start over six games (566 combined yards with four touchdowns and 21 touchdowns), Mixon saw his season end after Week 6 with a right foot injury. He gained only 3.6 yards per rush and 6.6 yards per catch, with three of his 140 touches gaining over 20 yards. His only impact game came in Week 4 (181 combined yards with three touchdowns and six catches).
Over the previous two seasons, Mixon averaged 96 combined yards per game with 19 touchdowns and 78 catches or 15.8 fantasy per game in PPR leagues. If he regains his previous form. Mixon would have ranked 9th, 9th, and 7th in running back scoring over the last three seasons.
Fantasy Outlook: Mixon should have the best opportunity of his career at age 25. His early ADP (21) projects him as the 15th running back off the table. Mixon should gain over 1,500 combined yards with double-digit scores and a run over 50 catches with an entire season of games. Early in the year in 2020, the Bengals had a habit of rotating in a second running back, which may be a red flag of his possible ceiling.
After kicking around the NFL for three seasons, Perine flashed late in the year for the Bengals in one game (136 combined yards with two touchdowns and four catches). He finished with 367 combined yards, three touchdowns, and 11 catches.
Fantasy Outlook: Perine's late-season run as the team's feature back cements his status as the RB2 to the oft-injured Mixon. The loss of Gio Bernard also potentially opens up more weekly opportunities, making Perine one of the better back-up backs to target in the waning rounds of 2021 drafts.
Over four seasons at Michigan, Evans never saw starting snaps. He gained 2,274 combined yards with 15 touchdowns and 49 catches. His best output came in 2017 (842 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 16 catches).
Despite a short resume, Evans will be in the mix for the backup role for the Bengals. His game projects well in the passing game, giving him a chance to fill the void created by the loss of Giovani Bernard.
In his rookie season, Higgins finished as the 28th highest scoring wide receiver in PPR leagues (196.60 fantasy points). He caught 67 of his 108 targets (62.0 percent) for 908 yards and six touchdowns, highlighted by five contests (5/40/2, 6/125, 5/71/1, 7/115/1, and 6/99/1).
Higgins left some stats on the table due to minimal snaps in Week 1 (15) and Week 17 (3), leading to only one target. From Week 3 to Week 16 (13 games), he averaged 7.8 targets per game.
His blend of size (6'4" and 215 lbs.), speed, and natural ability put him on par with the best wide receivers in the game. Ja'Marr Chase will push Higgins to get better, and Joe Burrow will find him when he's open. Also, drawing WR2 coverage on more plays should lead to a bump in targets.
Fantasy Outlook: Higgins played last season without Joe Burrow for six games, and Cincinnati struggled to protect the quarterback (48 sacks). His next step should lead to a floor of eight targets per game. With growth to a 65 percent catch rate and similar yards per catch (13.6) as 2020, Higgins looks to be on a path for 88 catches for 1,190 yards with eight to 10 touchdowns. He should be a lockdown mid-tier WR2 in PPR leagues and a strong buy in fantasy drafts.
After posting back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons (76/1,028/7 and 90/1,046/5), Boyd projected to push higher with the addition of Joe Burrow. His play over the first 10 games with their rookie quarterback under center led to 69 catches for 710 yards and three touchdowns. Over this stretch, Boyd averaged 8.7 targets per game with an exceptional catch rate (79.3) while doing more of his work over the short areas of the field (10.3 yards per catch).
The loss of Burrow led to three short games (3/15, 1/72/1, and 5/43). Boyd had an early exit in Week 13 (ejection), and a concussion led to no stats in Week 15 and Week 16. When he returned to the field in Week 17, the Ravens held him to one catch for 1 yard on three targets.
Fantasy Outlook: Ja'Marr Chase should have minimal downside impact on the role of Boyd. He works out of the slot while doing more of his damage as a chain mover. The Bengals lack a top 12 tight end, which adds more value/chances to their wide receivers. Over the past two seasons, Cinci's wideouts had 384 and 390 targets. This year, Burrow will attempt well over 600 passes, giving the Bengals' wide receivers a top-five target opportunity. Boyd should settle in with about 120 chances, setting a floor of 85 catches for 950 yards and a minimum of five scores. His ADP (86) is about two rounds later than Chase and Higgins. I don't expect many fantasy owners to fight for him on draft day. Boyd should be playable as a flex option in PPR leagues while having a floor of a WR3.
Over the past two seasons, the Bengals' wide receivers saw their opportunity rise. In 2020, they caught 63.2 percent of Cincinnati's completions and 72 percent of their passing yards. Their wide receivers finished with 235 catches for 2,715 yards and 13 touchdowns. This year, the Bengals will push toward the top of the league in wide receiver production.
After a dominating sophomore season (84/1,780/20) at LSU with Joe Burrow behind center, Chase elected to sit out 2020 due to Covid concerns. His best success came in four explosive games (10/229/4, 8/227/3, 7/197/7, and 9/221/2) while also gaining over 100 yards in five other contests (8/147, 7/127/2, 8/123, 6/140/1, and 6/144/2).
Chase thrived on winning in the deep passing thanks to great hands and explosiveness over the long field. He'll command double coverage and win many jump balls. His foundation skill set is elite while having a difference-maker ceiling.
The NFL has lacked the next wave of electric 100-catch wide receivers to replace Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Brandon Marshall. Chase will stand tall in the NFL while expecting him to have a Hall of Fame career.
Fantasy Outlook: With experience playing with Joe Burrow, Chase should make a quick transition to the NFL. He projects to be a perennial top 10 wide receiver (eventually best WR) once he gets some experience in the NFL. The Bengals now have three excellent options at wideout, but with that, there will be competition for targets. My starting point for Chase in 2021 will be 80 catches for 1,200 yards with a chance to score double-digit touchdowns. My gut says draft him as the WR1 for the Bengals. Chase is not a player a fantasy owner wants to finesse in drafts. Tee him up and take that home run swing.
The Bengals picked up Tate in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The lack of depth and injuries to Cincinnati's wide receivers led to him catching 40 passes for 575 yards and one touchdown in his second year in the NFL. Despite a bump in production, Tate only caught 50 percent of his 80 targets.
His season ended last season in Week 12 due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery. Tate had a minimal role in 2020 (14/150 on 22 targets) while battling his shoulder issue for more of the year.
This season, he'll provide insurance for the Bengals' top two outside wide receivers.
Other Options: Trent Taylor, Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan, Trenton Irwin
In 2018, Uzomah set career-highs in catches (43), receiving yards (439), touchdowns (3), and targets (64). The following season with Tyler Eifert back on the field, he caught 27 passes for 242 yards and two scores over 40 targets. Over his final two games in 2019, Uzomah had playable fantasy value (4/37/1 and 5/25/1).
His season ended after two games in 2020 when he blew out his right Achilles. Uzomah started the year with two productive games (4/45 and 4/42/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Uzomah may very well emerge as the Bengals' starting tight end. His ceiling isn't very high, and he will be tough to time even if he starts.
Other Options: Thaddeus Moss, Mason Schreck, Mitchell Wilcox, Cheyenne O'Grady
The change at quarterback and wide receiver led to the Bengals only completing 53 passes for 489 yards and two touchdowns on 72 targets to their tight ends in 2020. Their opportunity slipped by almost 50 percent in catches from the previous year. Over the past two seasons, the tight end position gained short yards per catch (9.4 and 9.2), which shows the lack of explosiveness at the position.
In the second round in 2019, Cinci tried to upgrade the tight end position by drafting Sample. His best asset early in his career will be his blocking skills, which helps improve the run game. Sample needs development in his route running, but he does have a feel for open space in his pass patterns with the wheels to test a defense if given a free run downfield.
The Bengals gave Sample almost two-thirds of their tight end opportunity in 2020, leading to 40 catches for 349 yards and one touchdown due to an injury to C.J. Uzomah in Week 2. He gained over 50 yards in one contest while receiving five catches or more in three games.
Fantasy Outlook: Sample has no starting fantasy value this season. I don't see a progression to more chances based on the structure of the Bengals' wide receivers, but he will have some games where defenses let Burrow use him to make short plays. Cincinnati will rotate in multiple other tight ends this year in an effort to find the player with the most upside.
McPherson was the first kicker selected in the 2021 NFL Draft and that is usually a good indicator of a player that is expected to step in immediately and win a job. The former Florida Gator converted 85 percent of his field goal attempts in college and successfully booted 149-of-150 extra point attempts. He also showed well on kicks of 50-plus and has a legitimate shot at emerging as an average fantasy option on Year One in a powerful Cincinnati offense.
The Bengals moved to 29th in rushing yards allowed (2,368), with ball carriers gaining 5.1 yards per rush with 20 runs gaining over 20 yards. Cinci gave up 13 rushing touchdowns, which was an improvement from 2018 (17) and 2019 (17).
Their pass defense improved to 19th in passing yards allowed (3,859) with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Receivers gained over 20 yards on 57 plays. Cinci had the worst pass rush in the league (17 sacks).
Cincinnati tried to improve their foundation against the run while adding pass-rushing talent on the outside. Their young linebacking core needs more experience, which paints a risk/reward picture. I don't see a big step forward in sacks, and offenses should still run on the Bengals. The third level of the defense ranks the best while not being elite.
DT D.J. Reader
Cincinnati signed Reader in 2020 to help improve this rush defense. Unfortunately, a quad injury ended his year after five games. Over four seasons with the Texans, he played in 61 games with minimal value in sacks (6.5). It's all about slowing down the run game with Reader while expecting him to be on the sidelines on passing downs. Rookie Tyler Shelvin will compete with him for playing time.
DT Larry Ogunjobi
Over the last three seasons with the Browns, Ogunjobi had 148 combined tackles and 13.5 sacks. He will pressure the quarterback, but he tends to underachieve in sacks. His run defense has regressed in back-to-back seasons, suggesting his ceiling is a league-average player.
DE Trey Hendrickson
In 2019, Hendrickson started to show more value in the pass rush while handling himself well in run support. The Saints gave him the most snaps of his career last year, leading to an explosive sack total (13.5), but he lost his way against the run. His success last year was helped by New Orleans having a top defensive line, which won't be the case for the Bengals.
DE Sam Hubbard
In his second year after getting drafted in the third round in 2018, Hubbard nearly doubled his value in tackles (76) with growth in sacks (8.5). In 2020, he missed three games with an elbow injury. Hubbard lost his way in the pass rush (two sacks) while being on a similar pace in tackles (62). He projects as a developing asset against the run while needing to improve his tackling skills. Hubbard is a steady piece to the puzzle on defense who will control his small area of real estate on the field. His ability to work hard on every plays ups his playable value.
LB Germaine Pratt
Over his first two seasons with Cinci, Prat made 165 tackles while failing to record a sack. He brings speed and strength to the linebacking position. Pratt should add value in pass coverage plus have the skill set to attack the QB when asked. He will work from sideline to sideline, but he has to improve his hands to defeat bigger bodies in traffic and work on his technique. Pratt was a significant liability to the Bengals' run defense in 2020.
LB Akeem Davis-Gaiter
Davis-Gaiter finished with two starts in his rookie season, which led to 31 tackles, a half-sack, and one interception. He adds quickness and explosiveness to the Bengals' defense, but Davis-Gaiter lacks the desired size (6'1" and 225 lbs.) to be a stud at linebacker. His coverage skills show signs of upside, but he can get trapped looking in the backfield too long, leading to some missed assignments. Davis-Gaiter can attack the quarterback on blitz packages with a chance to make plays defending the run. He has a look to prove in 2021 if he wants to win a starting job.
LB Logan Wilson
Cinci needs Wilson to seize more of the snaps at the strongside linebacker. He only made two starts last season while missing four games with injuries. They need him to fill holes against the run while also holding his own rushing the quarterback and in coverage. Wilson has a good feel for the game with the vision to be at the right place at the right time. His only drawback is his explosiveness in his speed. Last year, he didn't play well in any area of the game.
CB Trae Waynes
The Bengals had enough confidence in Waynes to sign him to a three-year $42 million contract in March of 2020. He brings speed to the cornerback position while doing a good job holding wide receivers to short yards per catch on most plays. Waynes is a former first-round draft pick (2015). He missed all of last year with a pectoral injury.
CB Chidobe Awuzie
In 2018 and 2019, Awuzie made a combined 150 tackles with 15 defended passes. He has one interception in each of his four seasons. Last year, Awuzie missed eight games with a hamstring injury and a battle with Covid. He should help in run support while being a risk/reward player in coverage.
S Vonn Bell
The biggest concern for Bell will come from defending the outer parts of the field and his value deep in pass coverage. He'll grade well in run support when attacking the line of scrimmage, and his tackling skills have improved. Bell offered no value in the pass rush in his first season with Cincinnati, and offenses liked to pick on him in the passing game.
S Jessie Bates
Bates turned into a trusted asset in run support in his third season while improving his tackling skills. He finished with 109 combined tackles with three Ints and 15 defended passes. He has the speed and short-area quickness to handle his responsibilities in coverage. Bates plays with an attacking style that will perform well when moving toward the line of scrimmage. He can struggle when asked to change direction and make tackles outside his range. Bates is the best player on the Bengals' defense.