For the first time since 2002, a head coach other than Marvin Lewis will be roaming the home sidelines in Cincinnati. After posting a .500 or better record on 10 occasions and making the playoffs seven times in his first 13 seasons with the Bengals, Lewis compiled three consecutive losing seasons in 2016-2018 and now finds himself without an NFL coaching gig.
Enter the 36-year old Zac Taylor as the new head coach, one of the latest Sean McVay disciples to land a job as an NFL head coach. In what is likely a transition and building year for the Bengals, expectations are fairly low for the team’s performance in 2019.
Let’s examine my preseason superlatives.
Breakout Guy: Billy Price, OL
Starting a school-record 55 consecutive games at Ohio State, Billy Price was the model of consistency entering the league. Unfortunately his good fortune with injuries ended before his NFL career even began when Price suffered an incomplete tear of his left pectoral muscle during his bench press workout at the NFL Scouting Combine. Price was cleared in mid-June but it was not a timely setback as Price began prepping for his first season in the NFL. Price started the Bengals first two games at center before missing the next six with a foot injury. Returning to the lineup in Week 10, Price remained the starter for the rest of the season.
A perceived plug-and-play productive starter from Day One, that didn’t prove to be the case for Price as a rookie. A first-round round grade and my No. 15 overall player in the 2018 Draft Class, I know the type of talent and player Price can be. He was an absolute joy to study at Ohio State where his combination of play strength, mobility and technique led to dominant tape and an exciting NFL prospect.
With the creative Zac Taylor taking over as head coach and a healthy Price with NFL experience under his belt should lead to Price becoming the player Cincinnati drafted him to be in 2019.
Comeback Kid: Carl Lawson, EDGE
After a splashy rookie season where Lawson produced 8.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hits, his sophomore season was derailed by an ACL tear. The injury occurred in Week 8 of the 2018 season and Lawson’s goal is to be ready for Week 1. Assuming he’s clear to play, Lawson pairs with Carlos Dunlap to provide an exciting pair of outside pass rushers. Lawson's first NFL season and his tape at Auburn reveals a dynamic edge rusher.
Rising Star: Jessie Bates, S
Bates was a second-round pick but he certainly performed like a first-round talent during his impressive rookie season for Cincinnati. Starting all 16 games, Bates tallied 111 tackles, seven pass break ups and three interceptions.
Thriving in deep zones, Bates' is providing Cincy with a true ballhawking centerfield while filling against the run extremely well. Bates is looking like one of the early steals of the draft. He is the first Bengals rookie defender to start all 16 games since 1998.
Don’t Forget About: This Offensive Line
The Bengals offensive line is going to be a shaky unit in 2019, which isn’t exactly good news for quarterback Andy Dalton in what could be a make-or-break year. Despite investing thee first-round picks, a second round pick and trading for Cordy Glenn since 2015, the Bengals offensive line is likely to start perpetually struggling blockers in John Jerry and Bobby Hart among its starting five. While Cincy has some exciting offensive playmakers and a new innovative head coach, the offensive line is likely to cripple the unit this season.
Needs to Rebound: Andy Dalton, QB
While Dalton likely “is who he is” at this point of his career, this is a climacteric season for the Bengals starter of the last eight seasons. With that said, the arrival of Zac Taylor and exciting running back and wide receiver situation stirs some optimism that Dalton could thrive. The lackluster offensive line does toss a wet blanket over that idea but Dalton could be facing his final games in orange and black if he can’t overcome it.
Dark Horse MVP: Geno Atkins, DT
Since being a fourth-round pick in 2010, Atkins has compiled 71 sacks, 96 tackles for loss, 161 quarterback hits and has been named to the Pro Bowl in seven of nine seasons. One of the league's elite interior pass rushers, Atkins has been the model of consistency in terms of dominance as a defensive playmaker since he was drafted. In a 2010 Draft that saw Ndamukung Suh and Gerald McCoy selected No. 2 and No. 3 overall respectively, Atkins has been the best defensive tackle from the 2010 class. There are question marks galore with the Bengals in 2019 but Atkins isn’t anywhere near being one of them.
Under the Radar: Tyler Boyd, WR
Breaking out in Year Three of his career, Boyd put together a very quiet 1,000-yard receiving season in which he was in the top-20 of the NFL in receiving yards per game in 2018. Entering a contract year, Boyd is primed to build upon his success from last season and position himself for a lucrative payday. With a healthy AJ Green in the mix combined with the arrival of Zac Taylor’s offensive scheme, the numbers are sure to follow Boyd as he enters his prime.