The Bengals have just completed a season with one of their busiest Bengals rookie classes ever. Not as prolific as 2020, their greatest draft of all time. But steady and encouraging.
If you view it as many do, that the first three rounds should yield starters, the rest rotational and special teams players, and that three impact players out of a class make it an excellent draft, these guys are on their way.
A look at the kids from 2023 by round:
1. DE MYLES MURPHY _ He got better as he went, particularly against the run, and they continue to believe he'll be a special player.
He didn't get a ton of work behind starters Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard, but he flashed in enough spots that Next Gen Stats gave Murphy the second-highest pressure rate of any rookie this year. And there were big moments, such as in the overtime win over the Vikings that kept them in the playoff race when he had four tackles to go with a huge red-zone sack in the last minute of the first half. He beat Vikings 2021 first-round pick Christian Darisaw for one of his three sacks. Remember, he turned a mere 22 the week of the finale against the Browns, when he played a season-high 32 snaps.
COMP: Check out his Pro Football Focus stat line compared to the rookie line of Bengals three-time Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson for the 2017 Saints. Hendrickson played 344 snaps and had 235 pass rushes with 22 pressures and two sacks. Murphy played 304 snaps and had 165 pass rushes with 15 pressures and three sacks on 70 fewer rushes.
2. CB DJ TURNER _ No question the club's rookie of the year in the first half of the season and he nearly saved Jake Browning's first NFL start using his NFL combine-best 4.27 40 speed to break up Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson twice in the end zone.
He showed typical rookie inconsistencies down the stretch, but he also showed more than enough tools to back up his draft position as a future solid starter. He'll certainly get the chance in '24, but because of injuries, he's already got gobs of experience with 12 starts and 829 snaps, the most plays any Bengals rookie cornerback has taken since Leon Hall in 2007.
COMP: Here's this year's PFF line of Turner, a second-rounder with the 60th pick, and Giants cornerback Deonte Banks, a first-rounder with the 24th pick:
Turner covered 518 passes and had no interceptions, but he dropped two, had six pass breakups. He also gave up four touchdowns. Banks covered 496 passes, had two interceptions, dropped two, had six pass breakups. He also gave up four touchdowns. And just for the heck of it, old friend Eli Apple covered 340 passes, had one interception, dropped one, and gave up three touchdowns.
3. S Jordan Battle _ The unquestioned Bengals rookie of the year.
He began the season as a core special teamer and the quarterback of the punt team as the personal protector and after a 12-tackle game in Baltimore, he started the last seven games. He made PFF's all-rookie team and is the web site's 11thhighest-graded rookie, just behind Texans pass rusher Will Anderson, the third pick in the draft. PFF has him for 15 run stops, 12th among safeties, but the only who did it with fewer than 270 snaps. He played a total of 525 scrimmage plays with 219 of them on running plays. As the season went, his coverage grades began to catch up with his run prowess.
COMP: Battle is a crafty box-like safety who has terrific football IQ. If he sounds a little bit like a budding Vonn Bell, who always seemed to know what play was coming, that would be very nice.
Bell started 14 games as a rookie and took 889 snaps and came up with a Pro Football Reference line of no interceptions, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one sack, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, 87 tackles. Just for fun, double Battle's line since he had half of Bell's rookie starts: No forced fumbles or recoveries, but two interceptions, 10 passes defensed, four sacks, six quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, 86 tackles.
4. WR/PR Charlie Jones _ They like what he showed, but injuries prevented him from showing even more.
He missed time early in training camp with a shoulder injury and then missed six games with a thumb injury he sustained a week after he returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. So it was hard for him to get in a groove, but he was sure-handed as the No. 1 punt returner and became the first Bengals rookie to return a punt for a touchdown since Peter Warrick Bobby Orr-ed down a frozen field the first year of Paycor Stadium.
He took just 44 snaps from scrimmage and had seven catches for 64, 35 of them coming on a big play in the finale. And as a guy who led the nation in receiving last year, they think can be effective on the outside as well as in the inside, too.
COMP: Jones' 10.8 yards per punt return was the second- best among rookies. NFL leader Derius Davis of the Chargers, a wide receiver taken six picks before Jones in the fourth round, also had a touchdown and averaged 16 yards per return. Davis played in every game and fielded nearly more than 20 punts than Jones. He had 15 catches, but had only two more yards than Jones and a long of 18. Davis also ran it 14 times for 101 yards and Jones seemed headed on a similar track if he had stayed healthy. In the finale, Jones ran two jet sweeps for 13 yards on his first two NFL runs.
5. RB Chase Brown _ Like Jones, Brown endured some injuries that took him off the practice field and prevented him from getting into any kind of rhythm. But he showed enough on his 58 touches (44 runs and 14 catches) that he has that home-run ability and big-play pop they are seeking in the backfield.
All but five of those touches came in the last six games after he overcame a hamstring injury that took out four games in the middle of the season. He never averaged fewer than four yards per touch in a stretch best known for his 54-yard touchdown off a screen pass against the Colts. Next Gen Stats timed him at 22.05 miles per hour, second in the NFL this past season.
COMP: With his 4.43-second 40, 1.53-second 10-yard split, a 40-inch vertical, and 10-7 broad jump, Brown registered a relative athletic score that was fourth best among running backs at the NFL scouting combine, barely behind UCLA's Zach Charbonnet. Charbonnet, a second-round pick of Seattle, had nearly double Brown's carries (108) and more than double his catches (33), but according to Pro Football Reference, Brown averaged 2.9 yards after contact on runs and 13.9 yards after contact on catches, compared to Charbonnet's 1.9 and 7.5, respectively.
6a. WR Andrei Iosivas _ The tall (6-3), big (205) and athletic (4.3-second 40) Iosivas turned out to be a little less of an Ivy League project than they thought and he showed he can be more than a No. 4 receiver.
With four of his 15 catches going for touchdowns, Iosivas showed terrific presence and that his days as an All-American heptathlete at Princeton translate nicely to the red zone. They also think he'll have a huge bounce from year one to two, now that he won't have track or the draft process taking up his winter and spring.
Exhibit A is how he learned to play gunner and covered punts for the first time in his life for a Bengals special teams ranked in the top ten.
COMP: Let's take a look at another Bengals' late-round wide receiver with similar dimensions. In 2001, the Bengals took T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the seventh round with the 204th pick. He didn't have to wait behind Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins and had 21 catches for 228 yards, and no TDs in 12 games and one start. Iosivas, the 206th pick, had those four TDs to go with 114 yards in 16 games and one start.
6b. P Brad Robbins _ After going through one of the toughest Bengals debuts at any position in the opener (10 punts on a rain-slicked field in Cleveland), Robbins had a wild ride of both bombs and boots.
The full-circle finale against the Browns at Paycor Stadium was a hopeful microcosm of his inconsistencies. His first of six punts went just 33 yards. He drilled his last one 56 yards to force a fair catch at the Browns 18. He had a 40-yarder, but he also had a 50. His final line for the day, a 44.7-yard net to go with a 45.7-yard gross is a reminder he's got the talent that can make that big leap from year one to year two.
COMP: Michigan's Robbins, the 217th pick in the draft, went after Michigan State's Bryce Baringer went 192 to the Patriots early in the sixth round. While Baringer ended up leading the league with 38 punts inside the 20, he also had 22 more punts than Robbins. Robbins needs to improve on his 20 inside-the-20, but his net punting numbers weren't far off his sixth-round mate. Robbins had a 40.1-yard net allowing 220 return yards and five touchbacks compared to Baringer's 40.8 net on 441 yards and eight touchbacks.
7. CB DJ Ivey _ This injury hurt. In his eighth game, Ivey tore his ACL covering a Dec. 16 punt. Before that, Ivey had wooed the Bengals with his 4.3-second 40 speed and his ability to turn his head and play the ball.
He brought that speed to gunner and was part of a punt coverage team that allowed the top ten total of just 220 return yards. They're banking on his speed to return because they see him as a potential No. 4 corner and maybe better.
COMP: He played only 21 snaps from scrimmage, but showed plenty of potential with that speed and awareness. And his rookie experience isn't all that different than the first seasons of their last three first-round cornerbacks. William Jackson never played because of injury, Dre Kirkpatrick took 42 snaps and Darqueze Dennard had 62. Plus, Ivey became the first Bengals rookie to recover a fumble on special teams since safety Marvin White in 2007.