Roster Roundup — A look at the new and improved Bengals defense

James Rapien

The Bengals had one of the NFL's worst defenses last season. They allowed the most yards-per-play (6.1) and finished 29th in the league in total defense. 

Those struggles are a big reason why they went 2-14. They signed five projected defensive starters in free agency and used four of their seven draft picks on linebacker and defensive end. 

Franchise anchors like Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins remain, but there are plenty of new faces. 

Here's a look at the Bengals' post-draft depth chart:

Left Defensive End

Carlos Dunlap

Sam Hubbard

Kendall Futrell

Projection: Dunlap continues to hold down the fort on the left side. He turned 31 in February and finished with nine sacks last season. Hubbard has 14.5 sacks in 31 career games. The duo is exactly what teams hope to have at defensive end. 

Nose Tackle

D.J. Reader

Josh Tupou

Renell Wren

Projection: It didn't take long to find the Bengals' top free agent signing. Reader is an instant upgrade on a defensive line that should be much improved this season. Tupou signed his one-year tender on Friday. 

Right Defensive Tackle

Geno Atkins

Andrew Brown

Ryan Glasgow

Trey Dishon

Tyler Clark

Projection: Atkins played the most snaps of his career last season (816). The Bengals are hoping to use him less and get more out of him in 2020. The addition of Reader should help their cause. It's a prove it year for Glasgow, who has struggled at times during his three-year career. Dishon and Clark are college free agents that could push for a practice squad spot with a productive preseason.

Right Defensive End

Carl Lawson

Khalid Kareem

Freedom Akinmoladun

Projection: Speaking of proving it, it's time for Lawson to show he can stay healthy. He's played in 19 of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons. He has all the tools to be a dominant pass rusher. Can he put it together in 2020? Kareem is versatile and could play at either end position. 

Sam Linebacker

Josh Bynes

Logan Wilson

Markus Bailey

Brady Sheldon

Marcel Spears Jr. 

Projection: The Bengals' linebacker room got a lot more crowded this offseason. Bynes should start after signing a one-year deal with Cincinnati in free agency. Wilson and Bailey should be instant contributors on special teams. Wilson also has the skillset to supplant Bynes on passing downs, which is a realistic possibility this season. 

Middle Linebacker

Germaine Pratt

Akeem Davis-Gaither

Jordan Evans

Austin Calitro

Projection: The youth movement continues, as the top three middle linebackers are in their first or second seasons in the NFL. Pratt will start, but it'll be interesting to see how the Bengals use the versatile Davis-Gaither. He'll be an instant contributor on special teams and could get snaps on passing downs in coverage or blitzing off the edge. 

Left Cornerback 

Trae Waynes

Torry Mctyer

Isiah Swann

Projection: Waynes is expected to be an upgrade from Dre Kirkpatrick. The former first-round pick signed a 3-year, $42 million deal this offseason. The Bengals are expecting him to be a culture driver on defense in their quest to rebound from last season. 

Nickel Cornerback

Mackensie Alexander

Leshaun Sims

Tony Brown

Projection: Alexander signed a one-year, $4 million deal in free agency. It's a prove it contract for the former second-round pick. The Bengals also signed Leshaun Sims, who will likely contribute on special teams. 

Right Cornerback

William Jackson III

Darius Phillips 

Winston Rose

Projection: It's a big year for Jackson, who's set to hit free agency after the season. The former first-round pick had a breakout year in 2017, but has struggled in each of the past two seasons. He has the talent to be an elite corner. Phillips began to emerge last season. Look for him to continue to contribute and take steps forward, both as a returner and at corner. 

Strong Safety

Vonn Bell

Shawn Williams 

Trayveon Henderson

Projection: The Bengals are expecting Bell to make an instant-impact on defense. He should give their run defense a big boost. Williams could be used in more of a hybrid role closer to the line of scrimmage. It doesn't sound like the Bengals will move him to linebacker, but he'll be doing some of the same things that a linebacker has to do for a defense to be successful. 

Free Safety

Jessie Bates

Brandon Wilson

Projection: The addition of Bell should put Bates in a position to succeed. The Bengals hope he's making less tackles and is coming down with more interceptions this season. Wilson signed his one-year tender. His a versatile player that will make the roster because of his ability to play special teams.

For a look at the Bengals' post-draft offense, go here.

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