The 2022 Cincinnati Bengals were arguably the best team in franchise history. Despite falling one game short of the Super Bowl, their overall roster and 14-5 overall record are among the very best Cincinnati has ever seen in the team’s 55-year history.
On paper, the Bengals’ current roster looks every bit as good, if not better, than last year’s version. Free agency ultimately upgraded the offensive line with the Orlando Brown Jr. signing, and the draft brought plenty of depth across the defense and skill positions on offense.
The idea of gunning for a third-consecutive AFC title game, a second Super Bowl appearance in three years, and the first-ever championship is very much in sight for the Bengals. But they’re not without flaws.
Cincinnati ended up with eight draft picks this past weekend. Despite the addition of one more selection, a few notable positions went unaddressed. Depth at these roster spots are dangerously thin, and for a team with no weak points at any starting spots, they’ve become the current liabilities.
Irv Smith Jr. has an amazing opportunity ahead of him. The former second-round pick brings ample athleticism to the Bengals’ offense, and that can help the team unlock the position in ways they haven’t before with Joe Burrow at quarterback.
Smith’s only real downside is his injury history. He’s suffered major injuries in each of the past two years. Not being on the field consistently enough tanked his value on the free agent market back in March, which opened the door for the Bengals to sign him for less than $2 million for the year.
If Smith were to go down again in 2023, Drew Sample and Devin Asiasi would be the next guys up. Even for an offense that doesn’t prominently utilize the position in the passing game, that’s not ideal at all. Cincinnati would be wise to scour the waiver wire during final cuts to pick up a more athletic reserve.
Interior offensive line
It’s much more difficult finding an offensive line with good depth, but a weakness is still a weakness.
Behind Cordell Volson, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa, the Bengals roster the same depth pieces from last season. Max Scharping re-signed as a swing guard, while Trey Hill enters his third year as the reserve center.
The Bengals saw how devastating injuries up front can be in the playoffs, as they sorely missed Cappa, Jonah Williams, and La’el Collins during their frustrating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Two undrafted free agent signings of the past two years could make an impact here. Ben Brown and Jaxson Kirkland were both given draftable grades from different outlets and analysts.
Brown missed his entire rookie season due to injury last year, and Kirkland comes in as the only rookie o-lineman for the Bengals this year. If they have healthy training camps, they could push either Scharping and Hill.
Interior defensive line
Among others, Zach Carter became a big winner after the draft as far as Bengals veterans go. Carter is slotted to be the main 3-technique behind B.J. Hill, and play significant snaps at 5-technique in the defense’s base packages.
But outside of Carter, there’s not much else in terms of depth. Josh Tupou is still around as the backup nose tackle for DJ Reader, and Jay Tufele can play either spot inside. There remains a need for an explosive pass-rusher to complement these guys, and it just didn’t arrive from the draft.
There are a handful of options left available on the free agent market, like veteran Matt Ioannidis, who has been linked to the team in the past. An addition of that caliber won’t move the needle much.
Carter improving as a pass-rusher would make the biggest impact of all, as he’s just 24 years old and has some athletic ability to unlock.