As a lifelong Bengals fan, last season still feels like a dream. The offense was the story, as Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase continued their strong LSU connection, leading the team to the Super Bowl. The defense wasn’t bad and could slow down the Raiders, Titans, and Chiefs in the playoffs, at least enough to allow the offense to win. The defense was solid against the high-powered Rams in the Super Bowl.
The defense ranked right in the middle in many categories. They allowed 376 points, 22.1 a game, good for 17th in the league. The passing defense allowed a mess of yards, the seventh most in the league (4,222). They did only allow 26 passing scores (13th) and had 13 INTS (15th). The rush defense was strong, allowing 1,742 yards (ironically, exactly what the Bengals offense rushed for), and that total was fifth-best in the league.
The Bengals were very quiet on the free-agent front as far as the defense is concerned. The team franchise tagged star safety Jessie Bates and he has signed it and reported. The team resigned defensive tackle BJ Hill, corner Tre Flowers, and embattled corner Eli Apple. They also used five of their six draft picks to address the defense.
Trey Hendrickson, DE – DL9
91 days till #NFL kickoff brings you:— Ryan Miner (@RyanMiner_FFB) June 9, 2022
-signed 4yr/$60M contract with Cincinnati (was with Saints prior)
-14 sacks last season, 13.5 in 2020
-3FF, 12 TFL and 27 QB hits last season
-2021 Pro Bowler after his 5th year #RuleTheJungle #NFLTwitter pic.twitter.com/4BkCIqqbee
One of the recent free-agent splashes the Bengals have made was bringing in Hendrickson. He’s helped make the Bengals’ front four one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. Hendrickson led the team with 14 sacks and chipped in 34 tackles with three forced fumbles. He had 75 quarterback pressures, top five amongst all edge rushers. He’s only 27 years old and should have a handful of good seasons ahead, and he is our DL9 in Dynasty Nerds IDP ranking.
Sam Hubbard, DE – DL14
On the other end is Hubbard, and he was second on the team with 7.5 sacks. He had 62 total tackles and also a pair of fumble recoveries. He’s a great bookend with Hendrickson and also just turned 27. Hubbard won’t get the press of Hendrickson, but he has a safe floor with tackle production, and then a few splash plays to get that big play score.
BJ Hill, DT
Hill is a good target in DT-required leagues; he had 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season. Hill benefits from having Hubbard on one side and Hendrickson on the other. He’s got a strong anchor and power in spades, and Hill can create some push up the middle and stop the run.
DJ Reader, DT
Another good target for DT-required lineups is Reader. He doesn’t get as much pressure but is stronger in run support. He raked in 43 tackles last season in just over 50% of the defensive snaps, and that number should increase after the departure of Larry Ogunjobi.
Best of the Rest
Rookie Jeffrey Gunter and second-year Joseph Ossai can get some pressure and rotate in as needed, but both are defensive ends on the smaller side. Both will likely be more effective standing up and are quick and strong. I don’t see either making much of a splash for IDP yet.
Logan Wilson, LB – LB9
Another nice run stop from Logan Wilson pic.twitter.com/8f83ADowsB— Mike (@bengals_sans) November 30, 2021
The Bengals have been searching for a linebacker to solidify the unit, and they finally found one in the former Wyoming product. Wilson had an even 100 tackles but added four interceptions, four passes defended, a sack, and a forced fumble. He was only in on 63% of the defensive snaps, which should significantly increase. Wilson is one of the up-and-coming linebackers to target for dynasty.
Germaine Pratt, LB
If I have to mention another linebacker to own, it’s Pratt, and he’s just a steady LB4. He will get you five to seven tackles almost every game, but that is all you can count on. Pratt will grab a big play occasionally, and he did have a pair of forced and recovered fumbles last year. I wouldn’t mind having him as a depth linebacker, but I don’t want to rely on him.
Best of the Rest
Ossai and Gunter from above could make their way into the LB designation, but they are both listed at DE for now. Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey are the primary backups. If it gets to either of them having to play a lot, the Bengals’ defense is not in good shape.
Vonn Bell, S – DB11
Bell came in as the Dynasty Nerds’ DB11 and had a stellar 2021 campaign. He had 97 tackles, eight passes defended, three forced fumbles, and an interception. As the Bengals’ starting strong safety, he’s had a career resurgence and is entering the last year of his current contract. He’s a plug-and-play low-end DB1; Bell is as consistent as it gets from the safety spot.
Jessie Bates III, S – DB13
Bates recently signed his franchise tag and is also only under contract through this season. Bell and Bates are one of the best duos in the NFL, but both could be playing elsewhere in 2023. Bates has been one of the pleasant surprises over the last few years for the Orange and Black. He had a “down” year in 2021 with 88 tackles, four passes defended, a fumble recovery, and an interception. I don’t see a way the Bengals keep him with the looming contracts of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase upcoming. Plus, they added a rookie in the draft to help them transition if they cannot keep Bates.
Dax Hill, S – Rookie
Daxton Hill is a menace and an awesome addition to the Bengals' defense. Can't wait to watch him on Sundays. pic.twitter.com/eEhFiz4NLu— Mike (@bengals_sans) April 30, 2022
Speaking of drafting a rookie, Hill was taken with the 31st pick in the draft this season and was an electric playmaker from the University of Michigan. Hill is an athletic specimen and better suited to playing slot corner and free safety. He’s got tremendous range, and his instincts are off the charts. Hill will see the field as a rookie, but next season should be thrust into a starting role. For IDP, I think he will be capped a little; he’s not a safety who will rake in triple-digit tackles. A good NFL player and a good depth piece for IDP, but I don’t know if he’s on the level of Bell and Bates for IDP.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB
Awuzie is a corner worth targeting in CB-required leagues; he had a CB2 season in 2021 with 64 tackles and a pair of INTs. He flirted with 80 tackles when he was with Dallas and will always be a steady source for that critical stat.
Best of the Rest
We may as well call the other starting cornerback Bruno because we don’t talk about Bruno (Eli Apple). Mike Hilton is a decent source for tackles. He sees a lot of time at nickel cornerback and is good for 50 tackles. Tre Flowers is a backup and not worth IDP rostering. Finally, backup safety Michael Thomas is only on the team to confuse fantasy owners who think they are getting the Saint’s wideout.
The Bengals have an improving defense with stellar IDP options and several top-15 options in critical positions. Wilson will continue to improve, and I like his long-term options best among the group. Hendrickson and Hubbard are must-starts on the defensive line. And then Bell and Bates are as steady of a safety duo as any in the NFL.
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