Cincinnati Bengals: 7 building blocks for 2016
The Cincinnati Bengals are likely still recovering from one of the worst playoff losses in NFL history, but the front office must begin the process of picking up the pieces and building a roster for next year. Luckily, the roster is still loaded with depth despite having a handful of veterans headed for free agency. Here are seven players who have the potential to be the foundation of the franchise for years to come.
1. Tyler Eifert
In his third season, Eifert showed he has the ability to be one of the top tight ends in the NFL. He led the league in touchdown receptions for the bulk of the season until a pair of late-season injuries caused him to miss three games. Eifert has one year left on his rookie deal, but the Bengals would be insane to let him hit the free agent market. Eifert, who finished the year with 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns, has the potential to be Cincinnati's version of Rob Gronkowski without the extracurricular Gronking.
2. Jeremy Hill
Hill's game-changing fumble against the Steelers will never be forgotten, but he will remain the workhorse in Cincinnati's backfield despite a pretty big dropoff in his sophomore campaign. Curing his fumbling woes needs to be Hill's top priority this offseason, but he also needs to be better at reading his blockers and getting to the second level. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, 1.5 yards less than his rookie season.
Bengals running back Jeremy Hill needs to put his fumbling issues behind him.
3. Darqueze Dennard
Dennard finished the season on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 11. The former 24th-overall pick took some positive strides after barely getting a whiff his rookie season. With Adam Jones and Leon Hall set to be unrestricted free agents, Dennard could find himself starting as early as next season.
4. Cedric Ogbuehi
The Bengals worked Ogbuehi into the lineup as a sixth lineman down the stretch after coming off the non-football injury list. Ogbuehi was selected 21st overall despite coming off a torn ACL to become the team's left tackle of the future. Ogbuehi will likely have to wait at least one more year for incumbent Andrew Whitworth to pass the torch, but perhaps a one-year shift to the right side is in order to replace Andre Smith, who is also headed for free agency.
5. Jake Fisher
Fisher, taken 32 picks after Ogbuehi last year, will certainly be Ogbuehi's main competition for the starting right tackle spot. Fisher also saw time as a sixth lineman and was then used at fullback at the tail end of the season. The Bengals drafted the duo to become the bookend tackles for the next decade. Now it's just a matter of sorting out who plays where and when.
6. Tyler Kroft
The Bengals surprised many draftniks by reaching for Kroft in the third round last year, but the rookie filled in adequately when Eifert missed a few games in December. Kroft's best game came in the team's Week 16 loss in Denver when he recorded six catches for 46 yards, but he also hauled in his first and only touchdown pass a week prior in San Francisco. With the possible departures of receivers Marvin Jones and/or Mohamed Sanu, Kroft could see more opportunities in the passing game next season.
7. Paul Dawson
Dawson, selected 14 picks after Kroft at the end of Round 3, played mainly on special teams as a rookie. Dawson was billed as a dynamic linebacker with character concerns, which could come into play considering all of the controversy surrounding Vontaze Burfict. The coaching staff preferred the experience of Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey this season, but with another year in the system, expect Dawson to have a longer leash next season and beyond.