For as well as the Cincinnati Bengals have drafted in recent years, which has drawn many to claim that they have the deepest roster in the NFL, there are, as always, a couple of questions that remain. One of the question that I have is this: where in the world are all of those young defensive ends that the Bengals have been drafting, and why are they not contributing?
In 2013, the Bengals used a second-round draft choice on defensive end Margus Hunt, a 6’8”, 29-pounder from Estonia who played for SMU. The following year, they added another defensive end, Will Clarke, in the third round. In the five combined seasons since, this pair of players has amassed a total of 19 tackles in 48 games played.
Last season, Clarke logged 134 snaps in 12 games and registered four tackles. Hunt saw just 57 snaps in seven games, registering two tackles. Hunt saw 187 snaps the year before in 12 games with seven tackles, while Clarke logged 62 snaps as a rookie. Hunt’s rookie season saw him play another 164 snaps.
Why have they not played a bigger role? Well, in two of the past three seasons, they have had Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson as their starting defensive ends, with Wallace Gilberry as a core rotational player. Johnson left in free agency in 2014, and GIlberry assumed the starting lineup, with a healthy Robert Geathers assuming Gilberry’s role.
Johnson was brought back in 2015, but Geathers was let go, and now Gilberry left in free agency. As a matter of fact, they don’t really have much behind Dunlap and Johnson now. aside from Hunt and Clarke, the only other defensive end listed on the roster is a first-year player by the name of Dezmond Johnson, who tried out during rookie minicamp for the Bengals but was not signed.
In other words, it seems to me that Hunt and Clarke are in a crucial situation during the 2016 season, in which at least one of them will have to take a significant step forward and log quite a bit of snaps in a rotation with Dunlap and Johnson, the former coming off the first Pro Bowl nod of his career. Each of them have a 10-plus-sack season on their resume.
For a team that is so driven defensively by their front four, however, it seems that they are unusually thin when it comes to experience along the exterior and critical pass-rushing positions. They currently appear to be strong and deeper on the interior of the line rather than on the outside.
This should be a big season to see whether these are just two high draft picks who have had to wait their turn behind valuable players, or if they were simply sub-par draft selections for one of the teams that has done it as well as anybody else has in recent years. The fact that they recently kicked the tires on Dwight Freeney might not be a ringing endorsement.