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Cincinnati Bengals

5 most important players for future of Bengals

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 15: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the Cincinnati Bengals minicamp on June 15th 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

The Cincinnati Bengals, the perennial tease team in the NFL, have been snatched up and masticated by the jaws of defeat more times than any diehard fan cares to remember.

There are few things worse than cheering for a team that has it all together but can never put it together in the postseason. The Bengals have the franchise quarterback, a future Hall of Fame wide receiver and a few of the NFL’s standout defensive players. They have made it to the playoffs six of the last eight years, but they haven’t made it out of the wild-card round in 27 years.

The Bengals have long been a franchise stuck in mud, while the rest of the AFC North contends for Super Bowls and division championships. Albeit, the perennial doormat Cleveland Browns are in that division, but if the Bengals’ success is measured by outplaying the Browns, then that organization has bigger problems to worry about.

What will it take to finally free the tires and kick the Bengals into gear?

A good start would be making coach Marvin Lewis walk to the end of the plank and giving him a nice, swift quick in the rear end. He is class personified, and a wonderful human being off the football field, but on it, he has the worst postseason record out of any head coach in NFL history (0-7).

The next move would be managing the marquee talent already in place and filling the depth chart with great complimentary players. Don’t be fooled by the Bengals’ 6-9-1 record last season. They have some pieces in place to be a serious playoff contender right now and several years down the road. The rest depends on coaching and the personnel moves made by the front office.

But as long as they have these five individuals, they will always have a chance to compete.

Joe Mixon, RB

Since the draft, most of the focus in Cincinnati has been centralized on the Bengals’ No. 9-overall draft pick John Ross. All of the hype surrounding the rookie receiver appears to be more about the potential his otherworldly speed brings, rather than his actual receiving talent. There isn’t enough substance on Ross’ resume to back up the hype.

But there is for Mixon, the former Oklahoma running back.

The 20-year-old Mixon has the rare hybrid style of an every-down player. He can pound the football downhill on the early downs, and he can also serve as a change-of-pace option and an extra receiver out of the backfield on third downs.

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 15: Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) controls the ball during the Cincinnati Bengals minicamp on June 15th 2017, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

If not for a misdemeanor assault charge, he would have been a first-round draft pick. The fact that the Bengals took him in the second round, when so many other teams were so hesitant to draft him early, is indicative of his transcendent talent and the team’s belief that he has matured.

The Bengals are in dire need of a franchise running back to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Andy Dalton. If Mixon can stay on course, he just might be the player the Bengals have been waiting for.

Andy Dalton, QB

No, A.J. McCarron will not be taking over the reins behind center for the Bengals. There is a tendency to want to wave the white flag for Dalton as the starting quarterback, but that doesn’t look to be happening anytime soon.

Dalton was still a Pro Bowl quarterback last season in a losing effort. He threw for 4,206 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Not just any quarterback can put up those kinds of numbers. He is too tough of a replacement for the Bengals to pull the cord. That generally goes for any moderately successful quarterback.

Talent is difficult to find at that position on the NFL level.

Dalton has to do better in playoff games. One touchdown pass and six interceptions in four playoff appearances won’t cut it if the Bengals have any hope of making a deep run.

A.J. Green, WR

There is no better explanation for Green being on this list other than the fact that he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL. When he’s healthy, the former Georgia Bulldogs star can sometimes seem virtually unguardable.

Although he is 28 years old, it’s hard to see him slowing down anytime soon. There is simply too much talent and separation right now between him and most of the league. Even with Dalton’s superb throwing arm, Green is the titular sports star for the Bengals.

Injuries limited him last season, but he has amassed over 1,000 receiving yards in each of the previous five seasons. He is already putting together a spectacular Hall of Fame resume, while also doing whatever he can to finally help the Bengals win a playoff game.

Carlos Dunlap, DE

This physical specimen of a defensive end has really come on strong in the last couple years. Dunlap has finally tapped into the mental part of his freakishly terrifying physical gifts. His breakout season came in 2015, when he had 13.5 sacks and 37 tackles. He followed that season with 8 sacks, 30 tackles and 15 pass deflections a year later.

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Cincinnati Bengals Defensive End Carlos Dunlap (96) warms up before the NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans on December 24, 2016, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

On a defensive unit with rough riders such as Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict, they need marquee defenders Dunlap and Geno Atkins to step up and be the voices of reason. However, even if the Bengals continue to struggle, Dunlap won’t stop doing his thing and racking up sack lunches on quarterbacks.

Geno Atkins, DT

Atkins speaks quietly and carries a big stick with him every time he steps onto a football field. The ferocious defensive tackle is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time first-team All-Pro. If he continues at this pace, go ahead and start preparing his spot in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There are few players the Bengals absolutely can’t afford to lose on either side of the ball. Atkins would be one of those players. His ability to seal gaps when teams try to run the football, and push the pocket whenever quarterbacks drop back and pass are the elements that give the defense a fighting chance week after week.

Atkins is the anchor of the Bengals defense, and he’ll remain so until the team finds another young star capable of handling those same responsibilities.

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