Days one and two of NFL free agency have come and gone. While the Bengals of recent years have done a commendable job managing turnover – drafting, grooming, and re-upping their own players – they seem to be hitting a snag of late. After allowing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu walk in 2016, yesterday the Bengals front office opted to not match offers for arguably their two most consistent linemen over the last five years – Andrew Whitworth who signed with the Rams and Kevin Zeitler who got paid by the Browns. Sure, they were both rewarded with massive contracts and crazy guaranteed money, but allowing both to leave decimated an already beleaguered offensive front.
Cincinnati’s 2015 top draft priority was to find replacements for soon-to-be free agent Andre Smith and aging (yet still pro-bowl caliber) veteran Andrew Whitworth. They drafted offensive tackles with their top two draft picks. Cedric Obguehi was the 21st overall selection, while Jake Fisher was taken 53rd. Many experts assessed the Bengals a high draft grade, but both linemen have underperformed to say the least. In 2016, Obguehi attempted to fill Andre Smith’s shoes at right tackle, but was frequently benched in favor of long-time veteran Eric Winston.
The decline of this once high-flying offense was disheartening for many fantasy owners in 2016. A one-two punch of Jeremy Hill & Giovani Bernard became “one-two lunch” for opposing defenses. Despite rushing for nine touchdowns, Hill only averaged 3.7 YPC – a far cry from his 2014 season-best 5.1 YPC. Gio’s 2015 career best 4.7 YPC regressed a full yard to match Hill’s woeful 3.7. Although Bernard’s season abruptly ended Week 11 (torn ACL), he only managed to find the end zone three times. With the departures of the “rock solid” left side of the line and Bernard’s questionable return from ACL surgery (see: Jamaal Charles), expect this anemic ground game to take another step backwards.
The passing game also took a hit in 2016 – both figuratively and literally. Here’s the telling Andy Dalton passing stats from the last two seasons:
Not only was the Red Rifle’s touchdown percentage way down year over year, but his 3.2 percent TD rate was by far the lowest of his career. Dalton’s futility was impacted by several factors:
1) Supreme touchdown threat Tyler Eifert missed eight games and was never 100 percent when in the lineup.
2) AJ Green’s knee injury limited him to 10 games.
3) The ground game was non-existent more often then not.
4) Last but not least, the offensive line did a terrible job protecting their quarterback.
If Marvin Lewis does not address the offensive line deficiencies in the upcoming draft (11 total draft picks), look for the Bengals to miss the playoffs again in 2017 and fantasy values to decline sans Green and Eifert.