Getty Images

Zac Taylor's career has gotten off to a slow start in Cincinnati, but don't be surprised if the Bengals coach finally gets things turned around for his third season with the team. 

After two years of building the roster, Taylor and the Bengals should finally have enough talent to compete in the AFC North. They might not be quite ready to win the division, but this is a team that could surprise a lot of outsiders by competing for a playoff spot.

The Bengals had a lot of issues in 2020 with their biggest one being the fact that they couldn't protect Joe Burrow. The Bengals spent most of the offseason trying to fix that problem by completely revamping their offensive line. 

For the second season in a row, the Bengals made several big signings in free agency, which was mildly surprising, because before 2020, the team almost never made any sort of splash in free agency. This was a team that barely ever dipped its toe in the water. 

Between the draft and free agency, the Bengals are going to have a lot of new starters this year, and because we want to make it easy for you to keep track of where those new starters will be playing, we've put together a projection of who will be on the field for Cincinnati this year. 

Let's get to the list.  


QB Joe BurrowBrandon AllenKyle Shurmur
RB Joe MixonSamaje Perine
Chris EvansTrayveon Williams 
LWR Ja'Marr ChaseAuden TateMike Thomas
RWR Tee HigginsTrenton IrwinScotty Washington
SWR Tyler BoydStanley MorganTrent TaylorRiley Lees
TE CJ Uzomah
 Drew SampleMason SchreckThaddeus Moss
LT Jonah WilliamsHakeem Adeniji

LG Quinton Spain Jackson CarmanMichael Jordan
C Trey HopkinsBilly Price

RG Michael JordanXavier Su'a-Filo
Jackson Carman
RT Riley ReiffD'Ante SmithFred Jackson

When you look at the Bengals offensive depth chart, there are two things that you should immediately notice:

1. The offensive line has been revamped. 
2. The Bengals are stacked at the wide receiver position. 

On the offensive line, there could be as many as two new starters going into the year. One of the new starters will be Riley Reiff, who come in and will start right away at right tackle after spending the past four years of his career in Minnesota. 

The other new starter for Cincinnati might end up being Jackson Carman. After being selected in the second-round of this year's draft, the Bengals will likely give him every opportunity to win one of the starting jobs at guard. The biggest upside for the Bengals this year is that they actually have depth, which means that if Carman isn't quite ready to start, it won't be a huge deal, because the team already has two proven starters that can begin the season at guard (Xavier Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain). The depth chart has Carman slotted in as the starter, but it's very possible that Spain, Su'a-Filo or even Michael Jordan could be on the field starting at guard in Week 1 (Carman is listed in the third slot here because that's where the Bengals currently have him on their depth chart). 

Basically, this version of the Bengals offensive line should be much better than it was last season to the point where Joe Burrow might not even know what to do with himself with all the extra time he's going to have to throw. 

Speaking of throwing the ball, Burrow is going to have a lot of options at receiver and that's because the Bengals have one of the most stacked units in the NFL. Not only do they have Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who both went over 800 yards last season, but they're now adding Ja'Marr Chase, who was taken with the fifth overall pick this year. 

If Burrow gets any sort of protection, he should throw for nearly a billion yards in 2021. OK, maybe not that many, but he should have a huge year if he can stay healthy.  


LDE Trey HendricksonJoseph OssaiKhalid Kareem
NT D.J. ReaderKahlil McKenzie
Freedom Akinmoladun
DLLarry OgunjobiMike DanielsTyler Shelvin
RDESam HubbardCameron SampleAmani Bledsoe
LB Logan WilsonAkeem Davis-Gaither
Darius Hodge
LB Germaine PrattMarkus Bailey
NCBMike Hilton
Keandre Jones

RCB Chidobe Awuzie
Tony BrownJalen Davis
LCBTrae WaynesEli AppleDarius Phillips
SSVonn BellRicardo AllenTrayvon Henderson
FS Jessie BatesBrandon WilsonKavon Frazier

The Bengals started the process of making over their defense last year and they continued revamping the unit this offseason with the addition of several key free agents and at least three of those signees should end up starting (Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie and Larry Ogunjobi).

Revamping the defense was something that had to happen this offseason, and that's because the Bengals defense was horrible last year. The team surrendered 389.2 yards per game, which was the seventh-worst in the NFL. To fix their problems on defense, not only did the Bengals bring in multiple free agents, but they're also going to be getting several players from last year's free agent class back on the field.

After being signed in 2020, Trae Waynes didn't play a single snap last year due to injury, but he's going to return and will likely open the season as a starting corner. The Bengals also have a force at nose tackle in D.J. Reader, who was limited to just five games last season. 

In the secondary, the Bengals have one of the best strong safeties in football with Jessie Bates. At corner, they might be even better than they were last year. Besides Waynes, the Bengals will have Awuzie along with former Steeler Mike Hilton, who PFF recently ranked as the fourth-best slot corner in the NFL.  

The biggest defensive question mark for the Bengals comes at linebacker, which is once again their weakness. The team is going to need this unit to step up if the Bengals want to prove they're a serious contender this year. 

Special teams

K Evan McPherson Austin Seibert
P Kevin Huber
LS Clark HarrisDan Godsil
KR Brandon WilsonDarius Phillips
PR Darius PhillipsTrent Taylor

The biggest change on the Bengals's special teams depth chart is going to come at kicker where the team will go into the season with a new starter for the first time since 2016. The Bengals used a fifth-round pick on former Florida kicker Evan McPherson and as long as he doesn't have any sort of mental meltdown during training camp, he should win the job. If McPherson struggles though, then the job would go to Austin Seibert. 

Two names that fans in Cincinnati know by heart are Huber and Harris and that's because they've been with the Bengals since 2009, so it's no surprise to see them locked in at punter and long snapper. 

As for the other specialists, Wilson has quietly turned into one of the best kick returners in the NFL. In 2019, he led the NFL with a kick return average of 31.3 yards. Wilson then followed that up with a 2020 season where he ranked sixth overall with an average of 26.2 yards per return.