While the NFL’s legacy of parity is partially a myth, it is true that we see teams every year make significant improvements, even if many of them prove temporary. It was around this time last year that the Cleveland Browns were being touted as the most-improved team in the league, but they actually finished with a worse record than the previous year.
There is renewed but more cautious momentum behind the more long-running Ohio NFL franchise this offseason, but the Cincinnati Bengals have the bigger bandwagon, even if few are off to predicting big things for them immediately.
Pro Football Focus, for example, selected Cincinnati as the most-improved team in the AFC North following the NFL Draft, which should not be a shock considering the draft capital that they had at their disposal, among their selections the first-overall pick, with which they drafted consensus number-one pick, quarterback Joe Burrow. Ben Linsey writes:
While you must factor in a team’s draft capital to judge how well they drafted, the pure impact of a class largely comes down to having more swings of the bat at premium positions. In drafting Joe Burrow, the Bengals added the best player in the draft — a player coming off the best season PFF has seen at quarterback since 2014 — at the league’s most important position. Putting up a 94.2 passing grade (led all FBS quarterbacks) and delivering passes with accuracy 71.5% of the time (also led all FBS quarterbacks) in the SEC is bordering on alien. There will likely be growing pains, but Burrow instantly makes that offense more viable.
The Bengals are already all-in on Burrow, having released Andy Dalton in order to relieve themselves of his $17-million-plus cap hit, after they had a busier-than-usual offseason that saw them bring in multiple new starters in outside free agency, among them Trae Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander in the secondary.
While they did not pick up the fifth-year option on John Ross, they do expect to get A.J. Green back, and Tyler Boyd remains a solid option. To the group, they add Tee Higgins in the second round, another player PFF was high on. “He gives Burrow another weapon downfield, evidenced by the big-time catch radius and after-the-catch ability he showed at Clemson”, the site says.
Another area of the team the Bengals used the draft to address was linebacker, which had become a weakness in recent years after having previously been a strength during the heyday of Vontaze Burfict. They also brought in Josh Bynes as a veteran free agent. But let’s be real. This is all about Burrow.