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Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
The Cincinnati offense gets all the attention and accolades, but their defense can get it done as well. The Bengals finished last season ranked fifth against the run, and their 58.9 % completion rate against the pass was the best in the league. Cincinnati surrendered the third-fewest points, and their 24 takeaways placed them in the top third of the league. The only important defensive statistic they fell short in was sacks, where they slid from 42 in 2021 to just 30 in 2022. With the personnel they have and the addition of first-round pick Myles Murphy, we can expect those numbers to rebound in 2023.
Going into the offseason, there was some concern that the unit might take some big hits. Several prominent players were heading to free agency, and both of the team's coordinators were candidates for head coaching jobs. The organization weathered that storm well. The only significant player defections came in the secondary, for which the team was prepared for, and Lou Anarumo is back to run the show.
The Bengals return all the important pieces of a strong defensive line. At end, Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson are established starters that complement one another well. Hubbard is not going to win any sack titles but is a consistent and dependable three-down guy that excels versus the run and will contribute significantly to the pass rush. Hendrickson is not as stout against the run but has an extra gear that makes him one of the game's premier pass rushers.
In terms of IDP value, there are no elite targets here, but both players have something to offer. Hubbard is not going to put up flashy numbers, but he provides good value and is easy to project. He has at least six sacks in four of his five seasons as a pro, with a career-best of eight in 2019. Hubbard has exactly three batted passes and one forced fumble in each of the last four seasons, but it is his tackle production that makes him a quality option for IDP managers.
The 2019 season was his best to date, with 48 solo stops, 26 assists, 6 sacks, and a final ranking of fifth among defensive linemen. Hubbard has put up at least 33 solos and 60 combined stops in each of the last three seasons, with rankings between 12 and 22. He has the potential to squeeze into the top twelve in 2023 and is a safe target as your second starter.
Hendrickson's appeal is focused more on the big play department. His sack totals were down a bit at eight in 2022, but his first two seasons with the Bengals produced 27, along with 7 forced fumbles and 4 swatted passes. Hendrickson has never exceeded 34 combined tackles in any of his six seasons. With the addition of Murphy, who could see a share of the early down snaps, that is unlikely to change. Combined tackles in the low 30s range and a dozen sacks are reasonable expectations for Hendrickson, making him a solid second starter in big-play-based formats and a high-upside DL3 to cover bye weeks for the rest of us.
Myles Murphy is the wildcard here. He is somewhat of a Hubbard clone in that he stands up well as a point-of-attack defender versus the run and excels in backside pursuit, but is not an explosive upfield speed guy. Like most rookies, Murphy needs to diversify his pass-rush arsenal and improve as a technician. He has a great motor and the work ethic to become a quality three-down starter for the Bengals, though he may not get there this season. Hendrickson is signed through the 2024 season and Hubbard through 2025, so Murphy will have to be patient as he gains experience as the third man in the rotation.
Both Cameron Sample and Joseph Ossai logged over 400 snaps as backups last year. There was a time when both were considered possible future starters. With the addition of Murphy, that is unlikely to happen, but they will continue to provide quality veteran depth.
The edge guys are not the only ones with IDP value here. B.J. Hill had a strong rookie season with the Giants in 2018, totaling 47 combined stops and 5 sacks. He was quiet for a couple of years, then re-emerged with the Bengals in 2021. As the team's 3-technique tackle, Hill recorded 50 combined stops and 5 sacks that season. He managed to improve on those numbers last year, going 31-38-3 with 4 turnovers and 4 batted passes. In each of those two seasons, Hill ranked 14 among interior linemen. He would have moved up a slot or two last year had the Bengals game against the Bills not been canceled. Hill is no threat to join the elite at the position, but he is an excellent target as a second starter in leagues requiring interior linemen.
D.J. Reader rounds out the starting lineup at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. He is a 347-pound anchor in the middle and a significant contributor to the team's strong run defense. Reader commands double teams on running plays between the tackles, which frees up those on both sides of him and makes life much easier for the linebackers behind him. He is not quick and nimble as a pass rusher but has the power to push the pocket and be disruptive. His presence impacts the production of those around him, but like many big men in the trenches, his value on the field does not translate well to the stat sheet.
Zachary Carter and Josh Topou provide depth on the inside. Carter is an interesting prospect that is worth keeping an eye on. He has the versatility to play defensive end if needed but is built to play the 3-technique in the Bengals' aggressive one-gap scheme. Carter was the third man in the inside rotation last year, seeing 462 snaps on the season. His role could expand a bit in his second year, but it would take an injury to one of the starters to make him an IDP factor in 2023.
- DE Sam Hubbard – Consistent and dependable DL2
- DE Trey Hendrickson – Low-end DL2 in big-play formats, bye-week depth for everyone else
- DE Myles Murphy – Short-term sleeper with strong potential in the long term
- DE Joseph Ossai – No impact
- DE Cameron Sample – No impact
- DT D.J. Reader – No impact
- DT B.J. Hill – Priority DT2
- DT Zachary Carter- Grab him if one of the starters goes down.
- DT Josh Topou – No impact
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