This Bengals’ offseason has been under much scrutiny, but is it truly deserved? Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko and Margus Hunt were three former Bengals who were viewed by most as weak links and have been removed from the roster. As a result, the front office should be applauded for assessing and recognizing key weaknesses and removing them. Listed below are several key losses that should yield positive results for the Bengals on defense along with their new replacements.
I. Rey Maualuga
Replacement: Kevin Minter
Minter is expected to step into Maualuga’s previous role as the starting middle linebacker. Minter, however, possesses the coverage skills that Maualuga lacked and is a more consistent tackler. He should at the least be an upgrade over Maualuga.
II. Domata Peko
Domata Peko has been the target of many Bengals fans in recent years. Although 2015 was a good year for Peko, 2016 was much worse and similar to his other seasonal performances. Even in his role as a nose tackle, Peko struggled with his leverage and was often pushed back and taken advantage of. This allowed the Bengals run defense to be exposed.
Replacement: Andrew Billings
Andrew Billings and Pat Sims are expected to fill the void left by Peko. Billings should be exciting to watch and was considered the steal of the 2016 NFL draft before going down with a knee injury. Billings has elite strength and athleticism and should help Vontaze Burfict and the defense out in ways Peko never could.
III. Margus Hunt
Margus Hunt just never lived up to the hype as a second-round selection plain and simple. Hunt struggled to get on the field, and when he was on the field, he was a non-factor. Hunt never was able to develop as a pass rusher and as a result, the Bengals let him walk during free agency uncontested.
Replacement: Rookie/Wallace Gilberry
The Bengals brought back Wallace Gilberry on a one-year deal and are expected to draft at least two pass rushers in the upcoming draft. Gilberry signed with the Detroit Lions and was later cut, but found his way back to Cincinnati last season. During that time, Gilberry recorded 2.5 sacks during that period. Although it wasn’t much, it still way more than Hunt had. The Bengals will also look to add two edge rushers who will be able to step in sooner than later.