Sam Schneider | May 20th, 2020
The Cincinnati Bengals hit it out of the park during the draft, beginning with Joe Burrow and continuing round-by-round to fill needs on the roster to pair with an active free agency and seem to have immediately changed their fortunes headed into 2020. With the scheduled offseason workout programs and post-draft rookie minicamps canceled, Zac Taylor’s vision of adding free agent veterans seems savvy, but it takes a lot to flip a franchise. The dominoes must fall the right way and here is how it happens, and this is how they will.
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The Bengals defense doubles their takeaway total from 2019
Increasing the turnovers forced from last year would not be a feat, as Cincinnati only managed 16 in as many games. That said, doubling the number would be impressive and would put them in striking distance of an absurd 2005 defense as well as a few of the top teams from last season including Pittsburgh and New England (38 and 36, respectively). The Bengals are not built for interceptions as evidenced by the 11 they had in 2019, but the talent is there to build on that number with the additions to the secondary. Instead, there will be herds of Orange-and-Black fans screaming “Ball! Ball!” on Sundays. The addition of Vonn Bell at safety added to an extremely underrated edge-rush is going to create a lot of fumbles, they just need to take advantage.
Joe Burrow breaks the record for touchdown passes by a rookie
This isn’t very bold but it needs to be said. The record is 27 and is currently held by division rival Baker Mayfield, who did it in 14 games (13 starts) without anything even resembling the offensive talent that Burrow has walking out of the tunnel. Kyler Murray won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Burrow had 60 touchdowns in his final college season against six interceptions. Of course, we cannot expect that level of production for the Bayou Bengal in the NFL, but it should be expected that he eclipses Mayfield’s 27 touchdowns easily. He’ll also hurl more than the 14 picks that Mayfield did but Bengals fans will gladly take the tradeoff.
Sam Hubbard records 16 sacks
The addition of D.J. Reader in the middle of the defensive line alongside Geno Atkins is going to create much more opportunity for the edge rushers. There will certainly be some rotation in Cincinnati on the bookends but the Ohio State product’s development cannot be denied. After playing in all 16 games in 2018 (limited action, zero starts) and tallying six sacks, he started 15 last season in the rotation and got up to 8.5 sacks. There would have been more opportunities had the Bengals not been trailing in most games and repeatedly being gashed up the middle. In 2020, Reader and Atkins clog the middle and the opposing quarterback will be wary of Carlos Dunlap, leaving Hubbard opportunities to beat his man and rack up the sacks.
Joe Mixon leads the NFL in rushing
Mixon is possibly the most underrated running back in the league and he seems to like it that way. Most people don’t even know he led the AFC in rushing in 2018 and they don’t realize that he went over 1,000 yards again in 2019. Last year, the team repeatedly got off to slow starts and were forced to abandon the run. However, Mixon still had 1,137 rushing yards and was a voice of positivity in the locker room.
Since 2018, Mixon is the only player in the league that has carried the rock over 500 times with zero fumbles and he has accounted for an outrageous 72% of his yards after contact. Even with talents like Giovani Bernard, Rodney Anderson, and Trayveon Williams on the depth chart, Mixon will get a fresh new deal. Mixon will then reward Cincinnati by winning the rushing title while players like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, and Dalvin Cook look on.
Duke Tobin wins NFL Executive of the Year
Most do not know that Tobin has been with the Bengals since before Marvin Lewis came to town in 2003. However, he has been just as instrumental in the Bengals success in the 2000s as Lewis has. It took years before owner Mike Brown finally relinquished some control over personnel and Tobin was right there with Lewis for every draft. Now it seems he’s finally becoming the general manager that Bengals’ fans never had. While it is not complete control, he has the trust of Brown, Katie Blackburn, and Taylor.
Taylor has a vision for his team and it was executed through free agency and the draft with an ease that has not been seen from the organization in an exceptionally long time. Tobin has mainly stayed in the background (although he is no stranger to the microphone) but that’s what a Director of Player Personnel should be. The no-brainer pick of Burrow helps, but the addition of pieces during free agency and the draft that can contribute immediately in the coming season gets the attention of his peers and it is well deserved.
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