Bengals Depth Chart Analysis | Defense
Can the Bengals’ defense improve in 2021 following their offseason additions?
Interior Defensive Line
Improving the defensive depth chart was a priority for the Bengals this offseason. One of those additions was former Browns DL Larry Ogunjobi. At 6’3″ and 305 pounds, Ogunjobi is best as a three-technique defensive tackle. He will bring the push up the middle that will create an outside pass rush.
D.J. Reader can move around the line and gives the Bengals options upfront. Cincinnati hopes the recent additions unlock Reader’s potential after he missed all but five games due to a quad injury.
Kahlil McKenzie is a third-year lineman out of Tennessee who has bounced between leagues, teams, and positions. Although he’s a natural defensive lineman, he was originally drafted as a guard by the Chiefs. What followed were stints with the Seahawks and the XFL’s DC Defenders and LA Wildcats.
Meanwhile, Josh Tupou opted out of the 2020 season due to health concerns.
Trey Hendrickson was the most significant move the Bengals made to their depth chart during free agency. After losing Carl Lawson, they signed the former Saint to a four-year, $60 million deal. However, the signing does not come without risk. While he tied for second in the NFL with 13.5 sacks, this was his first season as a starter.
A Cincinnati native, Sam Hubbard, will start on the opposite end of Hendrickson. He started all 13 games he appeared in last season and finished with 62 tackles, 5 for loss, 2 sacks, and 11 QB hits. The three games Hubbard missed were because of a left elbow injury.
With their third pick, the Bengals turned their gaze to the defense and selected Joseph Ossai out of Texas. Arguably the best player on the roster, Ossai was a disruptor for the Longhorns with 30.5 tackles for a loss and 11.0 sacks over three seasons. He is an explosive athlete on film and backed it up with an impressive pro day (4.62 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical).
Just one round later, the Bengals added to their depth chart with DE Cameron Sample from Tulane. Sample was a three-year starter for the Green Wave. Sample put up career-highs across the board with 52 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks as a senior.
Khalid Kareem played in all 16 games as a rookie. He finished with 19 combined tackles along with a sack and a tackle for loss.
Germaine Pratt is entering his third year with the Bengals. Pratt took over the starting role halfway into his rookie season and has yet to relinquish the position. While not an explosive player or great in coverage, Pratt has racked up 165 tackles and 9 for loss in 32 games (24 starts).
A Day 3 pick in 2020, Akeem Davis-Gaither made two starts on defense and appeared in all 16 games. He accumulated 31 tackles, 1 interception, and a half-sack in a limited number of snaps. This next season should be massive for his development.
Logan Wilson is one of three LBs selected by the Bengals in last year’s draft. Wilson made 33 tackles and appeared in 12 games as a rookie but missed the season’s final three games with an ankle injury.
Darius Hodge signed with the Bengals as a UDFA following the NFL Draft. Although he played DE for Marshall, he lacks the size to play the position in the NFL (6’1″ and 248 pounds) and will likely have to transition to LB as he competes for a practice squad spot.
We see a few new faces on the Bengals depth chart at cornerback.
Chidobe Awuzie agreed to a three-year contract worth $21.75 million, with $7.5 million guaranteed during free agency. The former Cowboy missed seven games with a hamstring strain and missed one game while on the reserve list. In eight games (six starts), he generated 38 tackles, a fumble recovery, an interception, and 5 passes defensed. He recorded 1 interception in each of his four seasons while in Dallas.
Fresh off signing a three-year deal during free agency in 2020, cornerback Trae Waynes missed the entire season after suffering a pectoral injury during training camp.
Another new addition is Mike Hilton. For the Steelers in 2020, he amassed a career-high 3 interceptions and matched a career-high with 2 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Playing in the slot, he was integral in sub-packages and run defense. Hilton finished his Steelers’ career with 186 solo tackles, 30 tackles for loss, and 7 interceptions.
Darius Phillips played in 12 games (eight starts), missing four due to injury. He finished with 38 tackles (2 for loss), 1 interception, 12 passes defensed, and 2 forced fumbles. Injuries have been a concern as he’s now missed 13 games over his first three seasons.
Former Giants CB Eli Apple is also now wearing stripes. A first-round pick in 2016, Apple played for the Panthers last season, but injuries forced him to appear in just two games. He has played in 57 career NFL games, with 219 tackles and 3 interceptions.
The Bengals re-signed CB Jalen Davis to a one-year contract during free agency. He joined the Bengals’ practice squad halfway through last season and played in six games, recording 4 tackles.
Jessie Bates III finished the 2020 season playing in all 16 games, compiling 109 tackles, 3 interceptions, 15 passes defensed, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 forced fumble. Bates was a second-team NFL All-Pro selection in 2020 and the only player on the Bengals depth chart to earn postseason honors.
Vonn Bell started all 16 games in 2020, finishing with a team-high 114 tackles (67 solo) and 3 for a loss. He had 4 quarterback hits, 5 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. While outstanding in the run game, Bell leaves a lot to be desired in coverage.
Brandon Wilson signed a two-year extension during free agency. He has played in 51 career games (two starts), totaling 24 tackles and 3 forced fumbles, along with 29 tackles on special teams. Where Wilson made his money was as a kick returner, averaging 27.8 yards on 45 career returns.
Trayvon Henderson played in four games but spent most of the season on the practice squad.
After six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, the Bengals picked up Ricardo Allen during free agency. A cornerback turned safety, Allen recorded 2 interceptions in 2020 and 25 tackles (18 solo).
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