Cleat Geeks

2018 NFL Drafting Needs; AFC North

Nothing beats a bit of draft speculation straight after one of the best Superbowls of all time, right? I’ll be going through the draft needs of every NFL franchise, moving on now to the AFC North (how to solve a problem like Cleveland?). I’ll give my view on the top 3 positions of need, and who that player could be, and crucially, why.

Pittsburgh Steelers – S, LB, RB

Making all the headlines this off-season will be the contract situation with a certain Le’Veon Bell. At the time of writing, the Steelers have restructured the contracts of David Castro (G) and Stephon Tuitt (DE), freeing up $13.25m in cap space. Much work is left to do, and a decision to be made on whether to go for a long-term deal (which is not wise in my opinion), slap the franchise tag on him again (which comes with it’s own risks of a holdout/retirement as declared at the close of the 2017 by Bell himself), or let him test the market. Depth/improvements are required at safety and a plan needs to be put into place following the horrific injury to Ryan Shazier.

Potential picks:

28 – Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

This guy is an athlete. He’s gifted with a great combination of size and speed, and has the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes and get himself into a playmaking position quickly. He’s very aggressive and this translates well when used in safety blitz plays. He does have the tendency at times to go in too hard with the shoulder, which creates the risk of a missed tackle but the Steelers have a very talented set of defensive coaches who will help him with his arm-wrapping technique, whilst unleashing the power he has shown in college in the right situations. A potential Pro Bowler.

2017 stats – 14 games; 74 combined tackles (4.5 for loss); 4 passes deflected; 3 interceptions; 2.5 sacks

60 – Terrell Edmunds, LB/S, Virginia Tech

Slightly bold call here; living under his brother, Tremaine’s shadow at Virginia Tech and playing mostly in the safety position, I’m calling for Pittsburgh to draft Terrell Edmunds here and use him as a linebacker. He is a good size to play safety in the NFL and I’m sure he would have a role to play there, but using him in both spots would give greater flexibility to a Steelers defence who are in need of it as teams such as the Patriots play on it, and other teams such as Jacksonville, are able to put huge points against them.

2017 stats – 10 games; 59 combined tackles (2.5 for loss); 4 passes deflected; 2 interceptions; 1.5 sacks

92 – Mark Walton, RB, Miami

I really like Mark Walton. I see him as a guy with the rushing capability of Devonta Freeman and the catching ability of James White. He is the perfect backup for Le’Veon Bell and a great insurance policy should he leave, hold out or retire (he isn’t going to retire). He’s short but powerful, happy to be patient and has the skill required to make tacklers miss. He also has great hands and can take a hit. In fact, he hasn’t fumbled in his last 274 carries, which is a fantastic record to have coming into an NFL draft. He does have a tendency to wait in the backfield a little longer than needed rather than just following the block plan, looking for a clear entry point. It’s unsure if his season-ending ankle injury has healed sufficiently to impress at the Scouting Combine, but if it has, his draft stock will certainly increase.

2017 stats – 4 games; 428 yards on 56 attempts (7.64 YPC); 3 TDs

91 yards on 7 receptions

Baltimore Ravens – WR, OT, RB

The hope will be that the Baltimore offensive line gets back to full health for the 2018 season. Assuming that is the case, it’s the skill positions which will be the focus of the draft. I do feel that additional depth at tackle would be wise and a focus on resigning the likes of Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Mike Wallace and Brent Urban prior to the draft will be a priority. If they can’t sign Ben Watson up to a new deal expect a tight end to be drafted later on also.

Potential picks:

16 – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Arguably the number one receiver in this year’s class, Calvin Ridley has absolutely dominated cornerbacks throughout his college career using his next-level ability to create separation. He is comfortable using the entire field of play and can be incredibly dangerous after the catch. He may need to work on his strength in order to have a similar impact in the NFL as the level of defence he’ll have to face will be that much stronger. He has had a tendency to drop the ball when under pressure from a would-be tackler.

2017 stats – 14 games; 967 yards on 63 receptions; 5 TDs (1 receiving 2 point conversion)

2 rushes for 17 yards

52 – Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T

Consistent four year starter, who seems to be building strength year on year, Brandon Parker is 6’7” and 314lbs of mass, with good ability against rush rushers. He was a first-team all-conference starter in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He could probably use some coaching at NFL level to make the most of his arm length, and to work on his body control. There would be concern that a better pass rusher could get by him fairly easily, but as a ‘project’ he would be a perfectly reasonable pick.

83 – Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa

A very highly rated athletic talent, Akrum Wadley reminds me a little of Dion Lewis. His feet are quick and he has the ability to make space for himself using jukes and spin moves which can confuse defenders, even causing them to hit the turf. He also has excellent pass-catching ability which could suit the Ravens well. Coaches will have to work on his pass blocking, and I don’t have him down as an every-down back, but there is definitely a role for him in Baltimore.

2017 stats – 13 games; 1,109 yards on 252 attempts (4.40 YPC); 10 TDs

323 yards on 28 receptions; 3 TDs

Cincinnati Bengals – OT, G, LB

Let me get this straight – I don’t think the Bengals have made the right move in keeping Marvin Lewis on as Head Coach. There is undoubted potential in the Cincinnati roster, being underutilised by a poor offensive scheme which is causing underperformance on both an individual and team level. AJ Green, Joe Mixon and Andy Dalton were all left with ‘below-expected’ stat lines in 2017 so it remains to be seen what will happen in 2018. The key will be protecting the quarterback. Losing two key members of your offensive line and not replacing them adequately is never going to work. This must be fixed in the draft and Russell Bodine should be resigned in advance of that.

Potential picks:

12 – Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

6’8” and 360lbs. That’s a huge frame from which to build a talented offensive lineman. Orlando Brown will make blocks with his frame alone and will be an intimidating prospect for the most hardened of NFL defenders. Not the most athletically gifted, Brown makes up for it in mass and arm length but will need some coaching to ensure he isn’t caught holding. I think he’d be better in pass protection than he would be against the run game, certainly in his first year or so in the NFL but he is very coachable and would be a vast improvement.

46 – Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia

Quick for a player of his size, Isaiah Wynn is a player with experience as tackle and guard, but for the purposes of this piece, having already drafted Orlando Brown at tackle, I’ll assume Wynn comes in at guard. He perseveres on all plays and looks to finish on top on every snap. He has excellent awareness of what’s going on around him and reacts accordingly. Particularly good against the linebacker. He’ll have to display that he can cope with the additional power he’ll come up against in the NFL but his raw skill and versatility will be highly attractive. He is stronger than many of the centers available in this year’s draft class so you could even see him line up there on occasion.

77 – Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State

Once viewed by many as a 2nd round prospect, I’m not convinced Jerome Baker has done quite enough in 2017 to live up to that hype and so he could drop to round 3, where the Bengals will happily take a chance on him based on the potential he’s shown in pass coverage over the course of his college career. At present he relies too much on speed and athleticism, often running around blocks rather than taking them on and going through them. Against average offensive lines, and in college, you may get away with that but in the NFL, this can be very costly. In the Bengals’ defence however, he could fit in well as a weak side linebacker.

2017 stats – 13 games; 72 combined tackles (8 for loss); 3 passes deflected; 2 fumble returns (1 for TD); 3.5 sacks

Cleveland Browns – QB, RB, CB

This is by far the most fun part of this entire series. Picks 1, 4 and 35. The Cleveland Browns. After a 0-16 season which followed a 1-15 season, it is crucial that they get it right this time. I do, in fact, like a lot of what they have done. Whether Hue Jackson is the right man to lead the team will only become clear with another season but Todd Haley as OC is a very good addition, as was John Dorsey as GM. With a deep quarterback class in 2018, the expectation will be that they finally get their man under center. After that, grabbing an every-down running back would be useful to compliment their new quarterback, an elite talent at receiver in reformed Josh Gordon, and a blossoming prospect in David Njoku at tight end. The potential is there, let’s see if they can actually unleash it.

Potential picks:

1 – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Elusive, aggressive, extremely quick and talented in all aspects of what you require in a running back; Saquon Barkley is something special. You don’t really need me to write up an article on him but I’ll try and make something interesting happen over the next few sentences. He’s a very capable pass catcher, and his combination of vision and agility makes him extremely exciting to watch, even in practice. He’ll only improve with NFL coaching but there isn’t a lot to work on. A true every-down back capable of being the face of the franchise wherever he ends up. This would allow Duke Johnson the chance to line up as slot receiver more often as well, where I think he performs at his highest level.

2017 stats – 13 games; 1,271 yards rushing on 217 attempts (5.86 YPC); 18 TDs

632 yards on 54 receptions; 3 TDs

2 passes for 36 yards; 1 TD

15 kickoff returns for 426 yards and 1 TD

4 – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Many love him, some hate him but you cannot deny the talent and the potential that Baker Mayfield possesses. He’s tough, competitive and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. Knows his own limitations and if the coaching staff are competent enough to build the offence around him and not try and fit him into an unfamiliar scheme, they may well have the answer they were looking for. Light on his feet, good ability to throw safeties off their coverage and set his receiver up for the big play, and vastly underrated accuracy in the throw. He’s also very mobile and has the calmness to improvise under pressure if required. Cleveland boast a strong offensive line however so this can only benefit him. Highly efficient in the red-zone, Mayfield will have to show that he can control his perceived arrogance and work on his ability to read the whole field before the world will be quite convinced he’s capable of being a franchise quarterback.

2017 stats – 14 games; 4,627 yards passing; 43 TDs; 6 INTs

311 yards rushing for 5 TDs

1 reception for a 2 yard TD.

35 – Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

Not the tallest a 5’11” but a tough competitor, Mike Hughes has only played two years of college football and one of those was as a starter. This will be of concern. His catching ability rivals a receiver, such is his timing and anticipation. He’s quick and so should have too much trouble keeping up with most NFL receivers. Due to the lack of playing experience, coverage will need coaching in the first couple of years and there is a strong argument that says he should have stayed in college for another year. Also needs to work on his tackling. He is an elite talent in special teams as a returner however which boosts his cause especially whilst his cornerback play is moulded and refined to suit an NFL system,

2017 stats – 14 games; 49 combined tackles (0.5 for loss); 11 passes deflected; 4 interceptions (1 for TD); 1 forced fumble; 1 blocked punt.

14 punt returns for 233 yards and a TD; 20 kickoff returns for 635 yards and 2 TDs

 

 

 

 

*2017 stats from www.cfbstats.com

Dawg Pound Scoop: The Battle for Ohio

This week was the annual battle for Ohio, between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals, struggling so far this year, still had a fantastic opportunity to pick up a win against a winless Browns team, and they did just that. The usual Browns mistakes occurred once again, and the Bengals took advantage with a balanced attack all around.

The scoring got underway with a Zane Gonzalez chip shot field goal from 27 yards out for Cleveland, but the Bengals came right back and finished off the first quarter with a Tyler Boyd 8 yard TD catch to make the score 7-3.

The second quarter saw the Bengals start to break open the game, with 3 Randy Bullock field goals. Zane Gonzalez pitched in another chip shot from 21 yards out, but the Bengals balanced attack of RB Joe Mixon on the ground and Andy Dalton’s elite passing vision helped to secure a 16-6 halftime lead.

Image result for cleveland browns vs cincinnati bengals

In the second half, Tyler Kroft hauled in a 1 yard TD pass on the first drive out of the gate to officially break open the game for the hosts. Zane Gonzalez hit another field goal, but with no end zone touches for the Browns yet, another loss looked to be coming soon.

The final quarter saw two touchdowns, one by either side, as DeShone Kizer finally found his way in after suffering a head injury in the first half. Joe Mixon responded right away, though, with his second touchdown of the game, and put the icing on the cake for a 30-16 Bengals win.

This season, now at 0-11, is another of embarrassment for the Cleveland Browns. The fanbase is losing hope day by day, as changes still have to be made around the club. The consistency factor is one of the biggest needed improvements for the team, and something needs to change quickly, or the franchise is in big trouble.

Bengal’s Burfict Is A Suspension Target

Vontaze Burfict is what every nfl fan wants to see, and apparently what every NFL front office person hates. He is a guy with a motor that seemingly goes non stop. He hits hard, you hear hits from him on the field every Bengal’s game you watch, unless he is suspended. You see he has been suspended several times for those bone crushing hits he delivers. Now, he is just a target for additional suspensions. It seems as though some players just get a “reputation” and the NFL watches them and not the games to see if they can suspend certain players. Vontaze Burfect seems to be high on that list.

On Sunday,Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown before hopping into the empty stands and waving his arms in the air. I had to work on Sunday, but I got up and watched it off my DVR. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a little over the top, then I thought, “If the Redskins fans don’t like it, then buy those seats keep him out of the stands and support your team.” But that was not even what he is facing a 6 game suspension for.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday night that Burfict is facing a five-game suspension for a hit he laid on Chiefs fullback Anthony Shrman back on Aug. 19. Video of the play in question appears to show Burfict, with 7:58 remaining in the first quarter, unloading on an unsuspecting Sherman after Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith releases a pass headed for tight end Travis Kelce way downfield.

Sherman crept out of the backfield as an eligible receiver, but was not close to being Smith’s intended target.

ESPN first reported the development. Rapoport reported Burfict intends to appeal the ruling. After the Bengals returned to Cincinnati on Sunday night, Burfict said his appeal is scheduled to be heard Tuesday, apparently via conference call. Here is the play in question.

“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best,” Burfict told the team’s official website. “I feel like I’ve let down my teammates, but I also feel like I’ve done a good job with this. I only had one personal foul last year. We feel like this was a legal hit. I hit him in the shoulder. I hit hard, so it may have looked like I hit him in the head, but it was the shoulder. I helped him up and he said he was good and I asked if he was good on the next series and he said, ‘Yeah, that was a legal hit.’

“The rules say you can eliminate a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage as long as you don’t hit him in the head and I don’t think I hit him in the head.”

The team released this statement Sunday night:

“The Bengals are aware of the NFL’s letter to Vontaze regarding a play in last weekend’s game. The film shows that the hit was legal, that Vontaze engaged his opponent from the front, and that contact was shoulder-to-chest. The Club will support Vontaze in the appeal process.”

With the Bengals already missing cornerback Adam Jones due to a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, this is a blow the defense simply cannot sustain. Burfict lost the first three games of the 2016 season after the league penalized him for multiple hard hits, culminating in the highly-publicized collision with Antonio Brown in the play-offs last year. Burfict has become synonymous with these monster shots, which have cost him hundreds of thousands in fines over the years.

Yes, Burfict hits hard, that is his job. People wine and complain about concussions and violence in football, yet they love and want to see hard hits that you can literally feel while watching it on television. When the NFL has suspended Burfict in the past it has been for “hard hits” not illegal hits. As both he and the team stated above this hit is not illegal either, it is just a hard hit. The NFL has a double standard. Seems like you can hit a man on the football field within the rules and it will cost you just as much as if you hit a defense less woman off the field. Be consistent NFL, with both your rules and your punishments.

REDskin Zone: A Tie, Now A Bye

Wembley Stadium has hosted its share of ties before, as soccer often leads to games that end without a winner or a loser.

Week 8 of the football season saw that rub off on the football field, as five quarters of football saw the Redskins and Bengals finish up in a 27-27 deadlock in the NFL’s third London trip of the season.bengals-uk-banner-art

The bye week comes exactly halfway into the year, with Washington feeling good but not great about a 4-3-1 start that has them trailing division leader Dallas, now 6-1 after the Cowboys’ overtime win against Philadelphia. The Eagles and New York Giants each are 4-3.

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden had something of a senior moment after the game.

“I don’t know how to react,” he said. “I didn’t know it was possible to tie. There was a tie last week I was like ‘how the heck did they tie?’

robertkellyredskinsThe game had a little of everything from big offensive plays to costly turnovers to kicking gaffes on both sides. Rookie Rob Kelley got his first start and was solid running the ball, while Kirk Cousins again put up big numbers throwing the ball around as the Redskins tried to match the Bengals’ potent offense.

After controlling the first half but only leading 10-7, the Redskins found themselves in a hole as Cincinnati came out with two solid drives in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter but led only 20-10 after Mike Nugent missed an extra point.

Back-to-back Cousins TD passes put Washington up 24-20 before Jeremy Hill’s short run put the Bengals back in front. Dustin Hopkins tied the game with a late 40-yard field goal that forced extra time.

In overtime, the Redskins used Cousins’ arm and Kelley’s legs to drive deep in Bengals territory, setting up Hopkins for a game-winning field goal from just 34 yards.

But true to the day’s form, after being iced by a timeout from Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, Hopkins hooked the kick wide right.

The Redskin defense almost saved the day anyway, with Chris Baker forcing a fumble by Andy Dalton on a quarterback sneak. But they could only drive to midfield, and Cousins’ final Hail Mary pass fell harmlessly out of bounds.

Oct 30, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) shakes hands with Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) after game 17 of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium. The Redskins and Bengals tied 27-27. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-268440 ORIG FILE ID:  20161030_gma_al2_144.jpg

Photo by: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley started in place of the injured Matt Jones and rushed for 87 yards on 21 carries and a score. Cousins threw for 458 and scores to Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed, who each caught nine passes on the day.

“It definitely feels more like a loss than a win, because we moved the ball so well and had so many opportunities to win,” Cousins said after the game.

 

Week 9 – Bye week

It’s a good time to rest up and heal up. DeSean Jackson left with a head injury, although Josh Norman and Su’a Cravens both were back in the lineup after missing time. Norman had a spirited battle regularly matching up with A.J. Green, who finished with over 120 yards but no touchdowns.

The Redskins get back in action on Nov. 13 at home against the Minnesota Vikings.

2016 AFC Predictions

After months of counting down, the first Sunday of play is starting. We’ve all had plenty of time to follow roster moves and watch as these teams come together for the 2017 season. So now the time has come to make things official and make predictions known to the world. Looking at the AFC, this is a very interesting conference to judge. They have a year in and year out power in the Patriots, up and coming teams like the Raiders and Jags and of course the defending champion Broncos. Here’s how I see things playing out in the AFC in the 2016 season. (playoff teams in bold)afcnorth

AFC North

Cincy – 11-5

Pitt – 9-7

Bal -8-8

Cle – 2-14

This might be the toughest division in the NFL. The Bengals are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and more depth than anyone in the NFL. The Steelers are always right in the mix and I don’t expect this year to be any different with the talent they have on offense. Really, I can say the exact same thing about the Ravens and their defense. Between the two of them they’d have a complete, powerhouse team. The Browns….well lets just say it’s a good thing they’ve been stock pilling draft picks.afceast

AFC East

NE – 10-6

NYJ – 7-9

Mia – 6-10

Buf – 5-11

Overall, I have not seen much improvement from this group since the end of last season. The Patriots are missing Tom Brady for four games, the Jets lost their all pro caliber running back from last year and the other two teams just don’t have a lot to work with. I think the Pats run away with thing after Brady returns. Perhaps if Rex Ryan stops trying to fit square pegs in round holes on defense he can save his job, but I don’t see that happening.afc-south

AFC South

Hou – 11-5

Jax – 8-8

Indy – 7-9

Ten – 5-11

Houston looks like one of the top teams in the AFC this year. With what they’ve added on offense with what they have coming back on defense, I would be a fool to pick against them in a weak, although improving, AFC South. The Jags have talent, but they’re so young and I believe they need another year. The Colts aren’t good, but they’ll get at least three wins in their division and I believe that Andrew Luck will cover up a lot of their flaws. The Titans have a running game now…..and that’s about it.

AFC Westafcwest

KC – 10-6

Oak – 9-7

Den – 9-7

SD – 4-12

The west is the Class of the AFC with three teams who could realistically win the division. Between coaching, defense and offensive consistency, I feel most comfortable putting my money on Kansas City. The defending champs return most of their great defense, so I can’t rule them out, but I can’t pick them either because of their awful offense. The Raiders are a team on the rise with a nasty pass rush and a good young QB. I wouldn’t be cincinnati-bengals-3dwallpapershocked at all to see them break through this year. The Chargers are in for a world of hurt this year.

 

If I were to pick one team, before the season starts, to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, I would probably pick the Bengals. The talent and depth of their defense is as good as anyone in the NFL. Pair that with a strong running game and one of the best WR’s in the game and it’s really hard to pick against Cincinnati. I know many people will count out the Bengals because they don’t believe in Andy Dalton and that’s fair to a degree. However, all the other parts of this team look so good that I think average Andy will be good enough to get this team to the biggest stage in the game.

 

 

Bengals sign 2 Free Agents Today

1 For the Defence, Karlos Dansby

karlos-dansbyBorn on Nov. 3, 1981, he is 39 days older than the oldest Bengal, left tackle Andrew Whitworth. His 180 NFL games lead the roster. He’s the only active NFL player with at least 40 career sacks and 15 interceptions in the regular season and with one more pick he’ll be just the fifth player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 20 interceptions.

But he wants the ring. That’s why he said about a month ago when the Browns cut him he wanted to come to Cincinnati. When it finally happened, he had trouble finding the words.

“I really can’t put it into words. You just can’t draw this up every day with the talent level you have on this team and the guys being so close last year,” Dansby said. “It’s a great opportunity with a great team. With a great team, man. Like, you know what I’m saying? Oh, man, this is going to be awesome. I, I, really can’t put it in words, this situation, man. You can’t … you can’t …”

When asked about the AFC North post-season game against the Steelers that ended the Bengals season Dansby said, “It was a tough way to end because they had the game won,” Dansby remarked. “Play here, play there. Flag here, flag there. And you lose the game. It’s a tough pill to swallow. But it’s the truth. They gave one away.”

But as he heads into his 13th season and his fourth stop on one of the most productive NFL tours of this century, Dansby believes he knows how the Bengals are going to react.

“They’re going to have a certain kind of passion, a certain kind of drive for the game that they didn’t have before,” Dansby said, “because they were so close and they know they had an opportunity to win that game they lost. I fit right into that boat. I want to be around guys that have the same kind of mindset. It’s just going to be a better outcome. I know it is.”

1 For the Offence, Brandon LaFell

The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the best passing offenses in the NFL in 2015, especially during the 13 games quarterback Andy Dalton was healthy. Dalton completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,250 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions, all of which combined to give him a passer rating of 106.2, second-best in the league. As a team, they had the NFL’s most efficient pass offense, ranking first in Football Outsdiers’ pass DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which adjusts performance for down, distance, and opponent).DaltonCenter

But, two key components of that passing game left the team this off-season. # 2 wideout Marvin Jones signed as a free agent for the Detroit Lions. They also lost their #3 receiver as Mohamed Sanu headed south to the Atlanta Falcons. Still, the cupboard is not completely bare, as the Bengals also have their #1 A.J. Green and their emerging tight end Tyler Eifert.A.J.-Green

And so Wednesday the Bengals responded by signing former Panthers and Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell, per multiple reports that cited LaFell’s agent.

Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

LaFell would probably like to forget his four years with the Panthers, catching a combined 167 passes for 2,385 yards and 13 touchdowns. He surged during his first season in New England though, catching 74 passes for 953 yards and seven scores.

LaFell entered the 2015 season looking like the No. 2 receiver for the Pats, but injuries kept him off the field for the first five games of the year and he simply never recovered. He finished the season with only 37 catches for 515 yards, and never found the end zone all season. He also had a disturbing stat last year, he led the league in drops (10) despite playing only 11 games. By the time the playoffs rolled around, LaFell was an afterthought in the New England offense. He caught three passes for six yards in two postseason games and was cut shortly after the start of the off-season.

With backup linebacker/safety Taylor Mays expected to sign soon, the Bengals look to have finished their work in free agency as they now concentrate on preparing for the draft. The acquisitions of Dansby, LaFell, and Mays, along with the re-signings of starting cornerback Adam Jones and starting safety George Iloka as well as regular linebacker Vincent Rey, backup defensive tackles Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson, backup tackle Eric Winston, and backup wide receiver Brandon Tate, figure to account for a salary cap count in 2016 of a little more than $20 million.

The Bengals still have some veterans they highly regard in free agency, such as safety Reggie Nelson, cornerback Leon Hall, and defensive end/tackle Wallace Gilberry. But they’re running out of room on the roster and under the cap as the draft looms. They will have to make some decisions on if they sign the afore mentioned players plus, they hope to extend some players heading into free agency next year.

NFL Report Card: Cincinnati Bengals

 

Our NFL report card for the 2015-2016 season will be assigning a letter grade to each of the 32 teams and offering an explanation why that grade was chosen. After the evaluation, we will point out one specific area the team will need to address this off-season. Want some extra credit? Comment down below what grade YOU would give the team, and tell me on Twitter (@FantasyFlurry) your thoughts on the team’s report card for that day!

cincinnati-bengals-surging-2015f

The Bengals exceeded expectations when they finished the season 12-4. Many thought they would be an eight-win team because of their tough schedule, but the schedule ended up being fairly easy. Much of their success this year was because of Andy Dalton, who was viewed as an MVP candidate through the first half of the season. He led one of the most creative offenses in the league, which often kept defenses guessing. His favorite target, A.J. Green, continues to be consistent as he eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five seasons in the league. Tight end Tyler Eifert fought back from last season’s injury to emerge as one of the top red zone targets in the league and catch 13 touchdowns. Once the playoffs came around, the Bengals went back to their old habits and found ways to beat themselves.

Their defense was one of the most balanced units in the NFL. Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Adam Jones, and Reggie Nelson helped to lead this defense to be top-10 in both sacks and interceptions. The weakest part of this defense was unfortunately all of the illegal penalties (Burfict had four).

Final Grade: B+cincinnati_bengals-641

 

Biggest Off-Season Need?

Much of what will need to be addressed depends on who they are able to re-sign in free agency, but I believe they will need to address the linebacker position. Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur are both free agents, A.J. Hawk’s performance is still on the decline, and Vontaze Burfict will be suspended for the first three games of the season. Not only will they need depth at linebacker, but they will also be in search of more youth at this position.

The “Wild”card game

Green-Cincinnati-Bengals-v-Pittsburgh-Steelers-4Fv3OZi_SDBl-600x400A season with such hope, ended in turmoil. The season that started with the Bengals going 8-0 ended in what seemed like a blink of an eye.

With a 1 point lead going into the final minutes of the wild card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bengals season took a turn for the worst. Burfict places a hit on WR Antonio Brown that draws a defenseless receiver penalty. This resulted in coaches coming onto the field to check on Brown, all coaches but 1 that is. Coach Porter proceeded past Brown and straight into a huddle of Bengals defensive players. Adam “Pacman” Jones didn’t take too kindly to an opposing coach joining the huddle. This led to an exchange of words with some shoving that resulted in Pacman being called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The 2 penalties moved the Steelers 30 yards closer to their endzone without them running another play. Porter, later fined $10k, was not penalized.

The Bengals versus Steelers game was filled with questionable calls (and no-calls). It involved many penalties & fines. It involved not 1 but 2 instances where Steelers coaches didn’t follow procedure. This isn’t the 1st time a Steelers coach has been involved in disrupting the game. Look back to the Steelers versus Ravens game when Tomlin “did not know he was that close to the field”.AtkinsRoth

The NFL later released that Porter should have been penalized & Martavis Bryant’s touchdown catch should not have counted.

No matter the outcome, there are 2 questions that come to mind. Is there a bigger rivalry in the NFL than Cincinnati Bengals versus Pittsburgh Steelers? And what is a catch?

NFL says Bryant’s TD Should Have Been Ruled Incomplete

martavis-bryant-terence-newman_pg_600Did the ref’s get any calls right in this game? Shouldn’t this game be forced into a “do over” now that we are learning much more just days later? There are two things for sure, it was a very athletic play by Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant, and not even the play-off selected refs know what is a catch in the NFL right now.

The touchdown Bryant made last week, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers to a wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals, was only upheld according to NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, due to insufficient video evidence,

The ruling, according to Blandino, should have been an incomplete pass.

“I don’t think this is a catch,” Blandino said, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. “If I just had a blank slate and I could say, ‘Do you think it’s a catch or not a catch?’ I would (have) said no catch. But the ruling on the field was a catch, and we have to see clear and obvious evidence that it’s not a catch.”

Bladino said the issue was whether Bryant had control of the ball, and got both feet in bounds, as he attempted to pin it against the back of his leg. He also claims the replay didn’t provide indisputable video evidence to the contrary, the initial touchdown call was upheld. Well here is a video that I found on YouTube after searching for about a minute that shows me a pretty good angle. I am sure that the NFL has access to this and multiple other videos, yet they go with inconclusive evidence?

Bryant’s catch was Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown of the game, putting his team up 15-0 late in the third quarter. The early advantage was enough for the Steelers to hold off Cincinnati’s late comeback attempt and thus advance to this weekend’s divisional round.

In closing, I would like to point out another fact. By a show of hands how many of you watched every NFL game last weekend? Keep your hands up. Now how many of you watched at least some of every game last weekend? Why can’t NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino do the same thing? Why does he have to wait until Thursday to tell us that the NFL is rigged and they wanted the Steelers to win?

Bengals Burfict suspended by NFL

The NFL announced Monday that Burfict has been suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2016 regular season for repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.Burfect1

The league deemed that Burfict should have avoided the hit that concussed Antonio Brown, ultimately giving the Steelers field position for the winning kick in their 18-16 wild card play-off victory over the Bengals on Saturday.

The suspension was imposed by Merton Hanks, NFL vice president of football operations, who ruled that Burfict’s action placed his opponent at unnecessary risk of injury and should have been avoided.

The NFL also stated that the conduct of other players and coaches involved in the Steelers-Bengals game is being reviewed for potential discipline.

Agent Audie Attar confirmed that Burfict will appeal the suspension, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. He has up to three days to appeal.

A repeat offender, Burfict left the NFL with little recourse. He had previously been fined four times in 2015 alone for safety-related violations.

That includes close to $70,000 for three fines stemming from three different plays during the Bengals’ 33-20 loss to the Steelers in mid-December.

His Week 8 tackle on Le’Veon Bell ended the star running back’s season. If you’re counting at home, Burfict was responsible for knocking Pittsburgh’s three best players out of games this season.

Burfect2The behavior is nothing new for Burfict. He led the league in unnecessary roughness penalties this season and was flagged for 22 “flagrant” penalties in 37 games at Arizona State, which contributed to his slide through the 2012 NFL Draft.

Burfict plays like a throwback to the 1950s. The difference is high-definition instant replays and social media weren’t around to capture and disseminate dirty tactics when roughnecks like Hardy Brown, Ed Sprinkle and the Black-Hat Brigade were shattering jaws and prematurely ending careers. Those hits won’t fly in an era of heightened concern for player safety.

The Bengals have long needed a ferocious tone-setter willing to match the Steelers’ physicality. Although Burfict does provide that presence, the modern NFL can’t abide a repeat offender intent on injuring other players.

I understand that the NFL is trying to do things that keep player safety in mind, but the vicious hits are one of the reasons that we watch. And I would say that these rules are going to far, and are not being enforced uniformally across the league. It seems to me as though the penalties are being handed out on reputation, and not play on the field. The referees can’t even be consistent in the same game, nevermind from week to week. The hit in the video above was without a doubt “leading with the helmet” Shazier lowers his helmet and launches himself at Bernard.PorteronField

If you look at the video above, the line of scrimmage is the Steelers’ 23. Now, not only did Pittsburgh not get a penalty on them, the refs actually were then forced to rule the result of the play a fumble. So instead of 1st and 10 on the Steelers’ 8 yard line after the 15 yard penalty the ball is then given to the Steelers. They certainly are not being handed out according to who is on the field, isn’t that right Mr. Porter.

Parts of this article were written by Chris Wesseling.

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