It is no secret that Zac Taylor has started his head coaching career with a 6-25-1 record. I, personally, believe Taylor has shown enough traits that lead me to believe he can be the long term guy in Cincinnati. He’s an underrated play-caller and players continue to buy in to what he’s selling. Ignore the Carlos Dunlap’s of the world. Out with the old; in with the new. The guys Zac Taylor has brought in seem to be thrilled to be a part of a potential dynasty with Joe Burrow at the helm. However, results are still pending. Here are five guys to me, that with a good 2021 campaign, can really ignite the Cincinnati Bengals into relevance:
- Trae Waynes
If Trae Waynes is able to come in and validate what seems to be an obvious overpay from the Bengals’ front office, this Bengals defense can be sneaky good. Waynes – who missed all of the 2020 season due to a torn pec – is back to 100% and ready to contribute. The Bengals’ are in need of a number 1 corner ever since they lost their best cover corner in William Jackson III to the Washington Football Team in the offseason. Waynes was given a 3 year, $42 million contract before the 2020 season. He ranks as the 8th highest paid corner in the NFL, tied with the Ravens’ Marcus Peters. Assuming Chidobe Awuzie starts opposite of Waynes, the Bengals figure to trot out a formidable pair of corners.
- Jackson Carman
There’s a lot of pressure on the 6 foot 5, 335 pound rook. The starting RG spot is his to lose, and the team is counting on Carman to step in and be a big contributor from day 1. Widely regarded as a 3rd round pick, the Bengals traded down in the second round to swoop Trevor Lawrence’s blindside protector. Now, Carman transitions to a position where many feel he’ll be a better NFL player. He’s slated to play next to Riley Reiff, who’s entering his tenth year in the league. Reiff is notably a smart football player and Carman should benefit well from his presence. If Carman hits the ground running, the offense will be even more lethal than expected.
- Trey Hendrickson
I wasn’t a big fan of the signing at the time, but after seeing a possible defensive plan come together, I don’t oppose it. That said, players and coaches (looking at you, Lou) have to perform. Hendrickson is a really high motor guy that will wear an offense out over the course of a game. His 13.5 sacks in 2020 could be a little inflated upon further review due to great coverage by the Saints’ secondary. But if that defensive plan I mentioned works the way the coaching staff wants it to, this increasingly versatile and athletic defensive line could start to become a strength of the team. Good coverage + relentless pass-rushers = success on defense.
- Vonn Bell
Bell found a bit of a groove in the second half of 2020. Bengals fans were very critical of his performance early on, but once he and the coaching staff found the right fit, Bell excelled. Getting him more involved in the run defense and less involved in pass coverage worked wonders for the 26 year old. Of course, he also made the highlight of the year for the defense when he met Juju Smith-Schuster on a crossing route in the December matchup. If Bell can pick up where he left off last year, it can make things a lot easier for those around him.
- Riley Reiff
Reiff joins Carman on the right side of a line that was horrendous last year. And while it looks a lot better on paper, Reiff is in sort of a new system in his 10th year and Carman is a rookie. I’m confident, however, that these two will be a very solid tandem. Reiff doesn’t have big shoes to fill at all, but he does hold the task of keeping Joe Burrow upright and elevating Joe Mixon’s performance.