The Cincinnati Bengals took a chance on a few new defensive linemen last year in hopes it would improve the pass rush that ranked worst in the league in 2020. The additions paid off, as the team produced almost three times as many sacks en route to their Super Bowl run.
Trey Hendrickson showed his 2021 stats with New Orleans were no fluke, and he ended up being a huge upgrade over Carl Lawson, also helping unleash Sam Hubbard on the other edge. Larry Ogunjobi, who was injured at the end of a successful one-year “prove-it” deal, will be missed as he departed in free agency, but B.J. Hill was another strong acquisition in 2021 who looks to build off an impressive first season with the Bengals.
The key will be finding production behind Hill.
Let’s take a look at the past performances of the Bengals’ current defensive linemen, and how they are expected to stack up in 2022 with help from some analysis and data from Pro Football Focus.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ON THE ROSTER
Projected starters: Sam Hubbard, D.J. Reader, B.J. Hill, Trey Hendrickson
Reserves: Cam Sample, Joseph Ossai, Josh Tupou, Zach Carter, Khalid Kareem, Jeff Gunter
Others in the mix: Wyatt Hubert, Tyler Shelvin, Noah Spence, Tariqious Tisdale
HENDRICKSON BY THE NUMBERS
2021 stats: 34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 27 quarterback hits, 14.0 sacks, three forced fumbles
PFF grades for 2021: Hendrickson ranked 27th of 108 edge players with a defense grade of 73.4, and he was 113th of 119 edge players in run defense grade (40.9), 11th of 105 players in pass rush grade (86.9) and 14th of 24 edge players graded in coverage (61.3).
PFF ranking for 2022: Hendrickson was ranked among the “Tier 4: Underrated Veterans” in PFF’s edge rusher rankings, at No. 20 overall with 32 total players ranked.
HILL BY THE NUMBERS
2021 stats: 50 tackles, six tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, 5.5 sacks in 16 games (two starts)
PFF grades for 2021: Hill ranked 26th of 109 defensive tackles with a defense grade of 70.9, and he was 22nd of 136 tackles in run defense grade (67.2), 44th of 95 players in pass rush grade (66.2) and had a 63.1 coverage grade (unranked).
PFF ranking for 2022: Hill was not among the 25 interior defensive linemen ranked by PFF for 2022.
HUBBARD BY THE NUMBERS
2021 stats: 62 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, three passes defensed
PFF grades for 2021: Hubbard ranked 44th of 108 edge players with a defense grade of 67.7, and he was 68th of 119 edge players in run defense grade (59.0), 57th of 105 players in pass rush grade (64.6) and fifth of 24 edge players graded in coverage (75.6).
PFF ranking for 2022: Hubbard was not among the 32 edge rushers ranked for 2022
READER BY THE NUMBERS
2021 stats: 62 tackles, three tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, 2.0 sacks in 15 games
PFF grades for 2021: Reader ranked ninth of 109 defensive tackles with a defense grade of 79.5, and he was 10th of 136 tackles in run defense grade (77.2), 36th of 95 players in pass rush grade (68.3) and had a 77.1 coverage grade (unranked).
PFF ranking for 2022: Reader was among the “Tier 3: Very Good” interior defensive linemen ranked by PFF, 11th among the 25 players listed.
The Bengals still have some questions to answer in terms of who will step up in rotational roles, especially in the interior defensive line, but Joseph Ossai’s return from an ACL injury last preseason could be an important piece to the puzzle on the edge.
PFF ranked the Bengals’ defensive line unit 14th best in the league, among the “Tier 3: Solid, all-around defensive fronts.” The L.A. Rams, who gave Joe Burrow all kinds of problems in Super Bowl LVI, continue to be the standard, ranking as the best defensive front in the league.
“Cincinnati’s defensive line, like much of its defense, has been shaped by free agency over the last two-to-three offseasons,” PFF analyst Ben Linsey wrote. “Trey Hendrickson proved last season that his 2020 breakout with the New Orleans Saints wasn’t a fluke, as his 75 quarterback pressures during the 2021 regular season were a top-five mark among all edge rushers.
“D.J. Reader was acquired from the Houston Texans during the previous offseason, but last year was his first full season in Cincinnati after missing time due to injury in 2020. Reader’s impact was felt in the run game, where he ranked in the 92nd percentile among qualifying interior defensive linemen in PFF run-defense grade last season.”
This is the fifth in a series of pieces breaking down each position group for the Bengals. Next up: Linebackers.