As much of the focus this offseason surrounds the return of quarterback Joe Burrow and drafting receiver Ja'Marr Chase in the first round, some of the Bengals boldest moves came on the defensive side of the ball.
This offseason in free agency the Bengals made a number of moves signing defensive end Trey Henrdickson, cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Eli Apple and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Cincinnati also added depth in the draft with defensive linemen Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample and Tyler Shelvin.
There is a lot of talent on defense and in year three of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's scheme, there are a few players in line for a breakout season.
A look at five potential Bengals who could earn a Pro Bowl pick in 2021.
S Jessie Bates III
Bates should have made the Pro Bowl last season. He earned a Second Team, NFL All-Pro selection after a breakout season in 2020, which was Bates' first NFL All-Pro selection. Pro Football Focus listed Bates as the highest graded safety in 2020 at 90.1 after he dazzled with 109 tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defended. The sky is the limit for the fourth-year pro.
DE Sam Hubbard
After recording 14.5 sacks in his first two seasons, Hubbard battled through an injured elbow and recorded only two sacks in 2020. What is encouraging is how Hubbard finished 2020 with 25 tackles, six quarterback hits and a sack in his last four games. Fully healthy, and with reinforcements on the defensive line, Hubbard stands to capitalize in a big way.
DE Trey Hendrickson
Any player coming off a season with 13.5 sacks should be on everyone's list for Pro Bowl consideration. That's where Hendrickson comes in. Signed from New Orleans in March, Hendrickson broke out with 13.5 sacks, 25 tackles and 25 quarterback hits. Hendricks also ranked sixth in the league with 53 pressures and 37 hurries, according to NFL NextGen Stats.
CB Trae Waynes
Waynes suffered a pectoral injury in training camp that required surgery and led to him missing the entire season. He's back to 100 percent and will provide a big boost to the secondary. Back in 2019, his last full season in Minnesota, Waynes established himself as a solid run defender, was penalized just once (after being flagged seven times the year before) and allowed a career-low 72.2 passer rating when he was targeted by opposing quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
DT D.J. Reader
Reader is a disruptor in the middle who looks to bounce back after he started five games before a quad injury knocked him out for the rest of the year. Prior to his arrival in Cincinnati, Reader was coming off a 2019 season where he made 52 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Reader should be 100 percent for the start of training camp, and paired with veterans Mike Daniels and Larry Ogunjobi, should be back to where he was two years ago.