• Home
  • Bengals On Edge: Why the Bengals could be thinking pass rusher

Share & Comment:

Bengals On Edge: Why the Bengals could be thinking pass rusher

Could the Bengals be a darkhorse for an edge rusher in the first round? All the talk in the offseason around the Bengals has been for an offensive tackle or even a defensive tackle. But ever so quietly, the draft and the Bengals are aligning for the possibility of an edge defender sitting in the lap of the Bengals front office come draft night. If Cincinnati is staring at one of the top edge prospects, could they actually take him over an offensive tackle? It isn’t totally unrealistic nor unreasonable. Cincinnati plugged a hole at right tackle in free agency to open up their draft board to other positions. With a couple of enticing options at edge and a rare opportunity to be able to select such talent, this could be the perfect storm.

The Board

This year’s draft class is loaded at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive tackle. Expected to go early on are four to five quarterbacks, three wide receivers, and at least three offensive tackles. That is ten selections accounted for before the Bengals pick at 18. Not to mention a generational tight end prospect and a few cornerback-needy teams picking ahead of the Bengals. This certain run on key offensive positions is going to push defensive positions down the board.

The Ringer’s Danny Kelly released his latest mock draft in which he had UCLA edge Laiatu Latu falling down to pick 18, allowing the Bengals to hypothetically scoop him up as the second edge off the board. For real data, in the last five drafts the first defensive end was taken top three four times. The second edge was taken at or before the 18th pick in four out of the five instances. In most years, this level of defensive end talent doesn’t reach pick 18. The Bengals may be able to capitalize on that.

Should they?

While defensive end isn’t the biggest need on the team, the Bengals have set themselves up for just a little bit of freedom in the first. After signing veterans Sheldon Rankins and Trent Brown in free agency to fill massive holes on each side of the trenches, Cincinnati can breathe heading into the draft. Ideally, free agency is about filling needs, and the draft is for finding talent that puts you over the edge–no pun intended.

The Bengals have been relying almost solely on Trey Hendrickson for their edge rush production. Since arriving in 2021, Hendrickson has led the Bengals in sacks every season. Trey’s 39.5 sacks as a Bengals outdoes the other four defensive end’s 32.5 combined sacks in that span. Despite Hendrickson’s 17.5 sacks, The 2023 Bengals finished 23rd in pass rush win rate according to ESPN’s analytics. Cincinnati is playing a dangerous game relying on Hendrickson as much as they have. While he hasn’t missed more than three games in three seasons in the queen city, Hendrickson has gritted through several mid-season injuries. Hendrickson will turn 30 years old late next season.

As for the other rostered defensive ends, the Bengals will be hoping for a big breakthrough from last year’s first rounder Myles Murphy–more on that later. Sam Hubbard is another key piece of the 4th most expensive defensive line, but his biggest contributions come against the run. Which isn’t nothing, but not as valuable as a true pass rusher. Backups Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample have been role players and situational rotations at most thus far in their career. Everyone and their chili vendor in Cincinnati has been waiting on that elusive breakout year from Ossai since 2021. While he has shown flashes, the Bengals cannot in good faith bank on lottery tickets in the year of 2024. Sample and Ossai are both scheduled to see the free agent market after this season, leaving the Bengals room to be a little bare.

Should the Bengals really draft an edge defender in a offensive tackle rich class? As mentioned before, a run of tackles is expected to hit the early first round. If Cincinnati doesn’t see ‘their guy’ waiting for them, they could look to other areas on the roster. Also worth adding with the addition of Trent Brown, the Bengals now have an insurance policy for that scenario. But you won’t catch me advocating on passing up protection for Joe Burrow. Simply put, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that offensive tackle isn’t the first position the Bengals take in round one.

In the past four straight drafts three offensive tackles have been taken off the board before pick 18. The Bengals will likely be picking from the fourth, fifth, and sixth best tackles in this year’s class. I would consider Duke Tobin ‘lucky’ if the fourth best tackle is still available in this seemingly historic tackle class. It is not hard to imagine the Bengals not liking their options.

Options at edge

There are three consensus first round edge prospects in this year’s class. Alabama’s Dallas Turner, UCLA’s Laiatu Latu, and Florida State’s Jared Verse. All lay claim to be the first edge off the board.

Turner has been heavily linked to the Atlanta Falcons at eighth overall. Given Turner’s explosiveness and ability to bend around the edge I view the Alabama product as a very unlikely option for the Bengals all the way at 18. That leaves two realistic options in Verse and Latu.

Latu is a polarizing prospect with a risk in his medical profile. It is because of the neck injury that forced him to miss two seasons that he isn’t getting more top ten talk. Otherwise, a solid prospect, the Bengals and other teams may be scared away in round one. Latu is one of the biggest boom or bust prospects in the entire draft. His pass rush skills might be the best in the class, I’m just not sure if the Bengals would sign off.

Jared Verse is able to rival Latu’s skills as a pass rusher. His explosive first step combined with phenomenal strength make him a candidate for the top defensive end in 2024. Vere’s questions against the run may deter the Bengals but there is no denying the impact Verse would make off the edge on passing downs. When you roster Sam Hubbard and Myles Murphy there isn’t harm in taking on a defender on the edge who is a project in run defense.

If the Bengals actually do wind up with the talents of Verse or Latu I fear for opposing quarterbacks. The Bengals would have an elite edge rushing duo with Hendrickson and the rookie. Possibly a trio for years to come if Murphy takes that next step as a rusher. Living in the AFC and that gauntlet of quarterbacks, there aren’t any words needed to explain how pivotal a strong pass rush is.

A bad idea?

This isn’t a perfect route for the Bengals to go in, admittedly. Cincinnati just spent their 2023 first round pick on Clemson edge Myles Murphy. Would the Bengals draft the same position in two straight first rounds? They’ve done it under de facto GM Duke Tobin, taking Cornerback Jonathan Joseph in 2006 and Leon Hall the next year. The Bengals also spent two straight firsts on the offensive line in 2018 and 2019 with Billy Price and Jonah Williams respectively. Cincinnati isn’t afraid to load up on one position group if the board falls that way. Which isn’t a terrible strategy, if executed correctly. Loading up through the draft is an affordable, sustainable way to turn a position group into a strength or even make it elite.

A first-round edge isn’t going to start for the 2024 Cincinnati Bengals. Which could be viewed as a negative. For a roster competing for a championship, you want as many high impact players as you can acquire. although, you don’t have to be a starter to have an impact ideally you want a first-round pick to start. Yet that just isn’t where the Bengals depth chart is currently at. The only positions that would have a realistic chance to start for the Bengals is tight end and defensive tackle. But there is only one man worthy of a first-round pick at tight end and no matter what defensive lineman it might be, they’ll likely be a two-down player as a rookie. Depth isn’t a bad thing to have. Depth is especially important on defense, keeping your defensive linemen as fresh as possible is key. You can never have too many pass rushers.

Subjectively the Bengals have a bigger need along the interior defensive line and I’m not going to be arguing picking a defensive end over Johnny Newton or Byron Murphy II. However, the defensive tackle class seems to be deeper than defensive end this year. There will be better options available later in the draft for the inside of the line rather than outside. This could play a factor in the Bengals decision making early on.

Don’t count defensive ends out of your mocks just yet. The Bengals could still use a boost there and may be looking to fill that room out next offseason, why not get a head start. Going in this direction is debatable, would it be the best option? it’s hard to say before the board shakes out. But there is one true adage; there is no night like draft night. In the words of Paul Pierce, “anything is possible” and anyone can be called. While a defensive end may not be expected, we certainly shouldn’t be counting it out.


Sign up below for the latest news, stories and podcasts from our affiliates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.