Projected Bengals defensive depth chart after rookie mini-camp

Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin during rookie mini-camp (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Here is a depth chart projection for the Bengals defense after rookie mini-camp concluded on Sunday (note: this is not the team's official depth chart and click here for projected offensive depth chart):


DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Number Likely To Make 53-man Roster: 8-9.
  • Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap, DT Geno Atkins, DT Chris Baker, DE Sam Hubbard.
  • Top Backups: DE Carl Lawson, DE Jordan Willis, DT Andrew Billings, DT Ryan Glasgow, DT Andrew Brown.
  • Battling For Roster Spots: DE/DT Michael Johnson, DE Gaelin Elmore, DT Josh Tupou, DT Chris Okoye, DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones.
  • The Skinny: Baker and Hubbard are pure projections. Baker was signed as a free agent after being released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Hubbard, who is a Moeller High School and Ohio State product, was drafted in the third round. The Bengals got very little productivity from the tackle spot opposite Atkins, and that included veteran Pat Sims, who is still a free agent, and Billings. Glasgow has some potential as a rotational player. Brown was drafted in the fifth round to provide depth and competition. Lawson is a superb pass rusher who needs to do more to play on first down, while Willis has the potential to push Hubbard for the starting spot. The tough decision will likely involve the veteran Johnson, who was effective as a nickel pass rusher from the tackle spot, but that's a role the team envisions for Hubbard.


LINEBACKER

  • Number Likely To Make 53-man Roster: 6-7 (depending on special teams performance).
  • Starters: MLB Preston Brown, SLB Nick Vigil, WLB Vontaze Burfict (suspended first four games).
  • Top Backups: Jordan Evans, Vinny Rey.
  • Battling For Roster Spots: Malik Jefferson, Chris Worley, Hardy Nickerson, Brandon Bell, Junior Joseph.
  • The Skinny: This group is simply a mess, especially with Burfict suspended for the first four games and then who knows what kind of shape/condition when he returns. Evans struggled as an every-down linebacker as a rookie last season, but the team could really use him to take a step forward. Rey is best served in a utility/special teams role. Jefferson is athletic and has upside, which is why the team took him in the third round. However, he has a lot of weaknesses, too. Worley may just be the best of the rest to earn a roster spot.


SECONDARY

  • CORNERBACKS
  • Number Likely To Make 53-man Roster: 6-7 (depending on special teams performance).
  • Starters: William Jackson III, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard (nickel).
  • Top Backups: None.
  • Battling For Roster Spots: Josh Shaw (can also play safety), KeiVare Russell, Davontae Harris, Darius Phillips, Tony McRae, Sojourn Shelton.
  • The Skinny: After missing his rookie season in 2016 due to injury after being a first-round pick Jackson proved last season that he might just be among the league's best cover corners. Kirkpatrick was inconsistent last season, but has the talent to be a quality player. Dennard flourished as the nickel corner and actually finished second on the team in tackles. The Bengals obviously weren't satisfied with the quality of their depth, which is why they drafted both Harris and Phillips in the third round. Russell has some potential. Shaw is probably best served playing safety.
  • SAFETIES
  • Number Likely To Make 53-man roster: 4-6 (depending on special teams performance).
  • Starters: George Iloka, Shawn Williams.
  • Top Backups: Jessie Bates III, Clayton Fejedelem.
  • Battling For Roster Spots: Brandon Wilson, Trayvon Henderson, Tyrice Beverette.
  • The Skinny: Bates, who was taken in the second round of this year's draft, could push for playing time. Iloka and Williams are both solid players, but neither is great at forcing turnovers, which is something the Bengals hope Bates can do, and why they drafted him where they did. Fejedelem is a solid backup and superb special teams player. With Shaw capable of playing safety and corner it will be tough for any of the other three to make it.

SPECIALISTS

  • Number Likely To Make 53-man Roster: 3.
  • Starters: K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber, LS Clark Harris.
  • Top Backups: None.
  • Battling For Roster Spot: K Jonathan Brown.
  • The Skinny: Brown would have to kick out of his mind between now and the start of the regular season to even push Bullock, who was 18 of 20 on field-goal attempts last season.
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