The Cincinnati Bengals have a track record of great draft classes in recent years, and this year was no different. They picked players like Darqueze Dennard and Jeremy Hill who can make immediate impacts on the field in their rookie seasons. However, the Bengals have their fair share of returning players, either second year or veterans, that are set to have a breakout season in 2014.
Margus Hunt (Defensive End)- Hunt is a physical force just based on size and strength alone. Going into his second year in the league, the Bengals have had Hunt focus on playing left end and building his strength over the off season. So far in OTAs, it looks like it has paid off. Defensive end coach Jay Hayes is excited to see what the extra 11 pounds the 6-8 Estonian added this offseason can do on the field in 2014. Hunt’s teammates describe him as “freakish” as an athlete. Hunt is excited for this season and feels like he can make a bigger impact on the line than he did in his rookie season last year because he is focusing on one position this year. Last year, he had to learn to play everywhere, on the end and the inside. This year, Hayes is just having him focus on left end, and really getting a feel for what that job entails. The Bengals’ defensive line is already one of the most feared in the NFL, and with more contribution from Hunt this season the D-line has the opportunity to be flat out nasty.
Giovani Bernard (Running Back)- Bernard had a great rookie season, and I expect no fall out from last year. Bernard was given a partner in crime when Cincinnati took running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU in the second round of this year’s draft. If Hill can adjust to the speed and playbook of the NFL, these two can be a dangerous duo in the backfield. Bernard is the faster of the two and can weave in and out of guys making them miss, and along with his receiving game out of the backfield Bernard can really be hard to contain. Defenses have a hard time covering Bernard because you never know if he is going to go out for a pass or run the ball, and that double threat will only help boost his game in 2014.
Andy Dalton (Quarterback)- Dalton will be interesting to watch in 2014, especially if the Bengals cannot reach a deal with him before the start of the season. 2014 is the last year of Dalton’s rookie contract, and he has proven that he has what it takes to get his team to the postseason, but not advancing once there. Dalton has improved his yards, touchdowns, and passer rating each season, but has also increased his interception totals each passing year. If he wants to truly be the quarterback of the future for this team, he needs to get his interceptions under control and read the field better, throwing to wear his receivers are and not where he wants them to be.
2014 should be another playoff year for Cincinnati. All major players and play makers are returning, including cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins from injuries. There are lots of players on this team capable of being game changers, and if they can live up to their potential the Bengals have a bright future.