The NFL season is roughly two weeks away. Unfortunately, there won't be any fans on hand to watch Joe Burrow's professional debut.
When fans are allowed back into Paul Brown Stadium, they'll [hopefully] be able to watch a new era of Bengals football develop right before their eyes.
For rebuilding teams like Cincinnati, it's less about wins and more about consistent growth this season, but that doesn't mean the new look Bengals won't be fun to watch. Let's take a look at five players worth the price of admission.
Heading into the most important season of his young career, Joe Mixon is the Bengals bell-cow running back. He should have plenty of opportunities to 'wow' fans this season.
His unique blend of power and speed has him primed to go off in a contract year. That mix is a big reason why he is second in the NFL with 43 runs of 10-plus yards since 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. Mixon also showed his agility all season forcing the fifth-most missed tackles (52) in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus.
Mixon played in every game last season, rushing for 1,137 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He also caught 35 passes for 287 yards and three scores. It was a slog in the first half of the year, but things got better once the Bengals implemented the pin/pull blocking system. Mixon blew up for 817 yards and five touchdowns in the final eight games of the season. Expect improved offensive line and quarterback play to ease the pressure and help Mixon have a career year.
The training room could've been John Ross' home address over the past few seasons, but the 24-year-old is the Bengals' most electrifying receiver when healthy. Ross turns his speed into quick agility coming in-and-out of breaks. There are times when there isn't a soul in the league that can keep up with him.
Unfortunately, his hands have failed him during his pro career. Ross tied for the NFL lead last year with a 20 percent drop rate on 35 catchable targets according to PFF. Despite the shaky hands, Ross finished sixth in yards-per-reception last season. He also forced the most missed tackles by a wide receiver when healthy. He has plenty of talent, now he needs to stay healthy and be consistent.
Burrow should be just what the doctor ordered for Ross after throwing 34 touchdowns on throws of 10 or more yards last season, which was the most among college quarterbacks since 2014.
In a similar fashion to Ross, Green cannot shake the injury bug. He's missed 23 of Cincinnati's past 24 games. There isn't much that needs to be said about a guy in the top five of receiving yards and first in deep-receiving touchdowns (20+ yard targets) since he entered the league.
Green has always been a walking highlight making insane one hand catches so routine that many fans come away shocked whenever he lets a ball hit the turf. At 32-years-old, Green is now paired with the most talented passer he's ever been around. History says it is still unlikely that he gets back to an elite level, but highlight-reel plays are always possible when number 18 is on the field.
The grizzled veteran was the Bengals best player last season according to PFF. He continues to age like a fine wine. Dunlap's career-high 89.7 grade was a bright spot in a sea of darkness for Cincinnati in 2019.
A model of consistency, Dunlap has notched 7.5 or more sacks in every season since 2012. He has a nose for opposing passes as well, batting down 57 in his career. Dunlap has leaned into that method of affecting the game even more as he's aged, totaling 38 swats since 2016.
Dunlap keeps himself in top condition and it's a big reason why he's only missed two games since 2012. If a fan buys a ticket, Dunlap is going to be out there working opposing tackles, batting passes, and forcing fumbles where he ranks ninth among active defenders with 20 in his career.
While Burrow has never thrown an NFL pass, he's already had a massive impact on fan interest.
According to Ticket iQ, the Bengals secondary ticket market prices have increased 143 percent compared to last season. That ranks third in the NFL behind the Raiders and Jets. The buzz is real around Cincinnati and fans are buying in.
Struggles will happen, especially early in the season. It's inevitable with such a condensed offseason, but Burrow has exceeded expectations every step of the way. There's no reason to think that success won't travel north. Bengals faithful are fully on board with the rookie signal-caller. Here's to hoping they watch him live and in person very soon.