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Bengals boast PFF's seventh-best roster

CINCINNATI -- Often this offseason we have discussed how the strength of the foundation of the Cincinnati Bengals' roster.

Because of that firm, deep and experienced base, the Bengals really didn't need to focus this spring on drafting and signing players who could shake up the starting ranks. Free agency and the draft are two areas where the Bengals have mostly been slammed for a perceived lack of action, but truthfully, they didn't have much action that needed to be taken.

Why? Because again, they have a rather strong returning roster from a team that has been to the playoffs each of the past three seasons.

Our friends at Pro Football Focus certainly believe so. In its 32-team rankingsInsider the Bengals were tabbed as having the league's seventh-best roster. For a team that brings back the majority of its starters after finishing third in total defense and 10th in total offense, the ranking makes sense.

The rankings were compiled by PFF, which is known for its position rankings. Last month, PFF also published its version of the league's top 101 players. Bengals A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict were in the lower tier of the rankings, but Pro Bowl offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth came in at No. 9. He was praised for his athleticism and versatility in playing both tackle and guard last season. He moved from left tackle to left guard after starter Clint Boling suffered an ACL injury with five weeks left in the regular season.

In the team-by-team roster rankings that are linked above, PFF used its analysts to grade each team using a color-coded system to rank projected starters. Elite players got blue colors, followed by good players who had varying shades of greens. Average and below average players were paired with yellow and orange, and poor players were red.

The Bengals had two players with blue codes: Whitworth and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. One player, defensive tackle Domata Peko, earned a red. The rest were a mix of the greens, yellows and oranges. The Bengals had more green-coded players than other teams, including the No. 8 team on the list, Green Bay.

Because of what Cincinnati has coming back, it makes sense that it would have a top-10 roster. They have few question marks in the lineup and are not forced to start rookies and other inexperienced players like many teams. Second-year players Giovani Bernard (running back) and Tyler Eifert (tight end) are the youngest starters, and both made valuable contributions as rookies. Bernard's goal-line fumble in the playoff loss to San Diego was costly, but he showed enough promise to earn the light-green status from PFF.

PFF projects Bernard to be the No. 2 running back behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but notes the starter at running back is primarily a name-only designation in Cincinnati. Bernard likely will get the bulk of the carries this season, but Green-Ellis, rookie Jeremy Hill and reserves Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead will also get carries. The Bengals will be sharing the load in the backfield instead of using one premier back.

PFF's biggest question revolved around quarterback Andy Dalton. Monson wrote that if Dalton wasn't so inconsistent, the Bengals might have been ranked higher. Dalton isn't simply an average quarterback who does average things. He is at times a really, really good quarterback who also has a knack for doing boneheaded things. His stretch of 11 touchdown passes in three games coincided with the back end of a four-game winning streak last October. However, his back-to-back three-interception games just after that winning streak led to a pair of ugly midseason losses.

The bottom line: the depth is there. The experience is, too. PFF got this one right. On paper, Cincinnati has a top-10 team. The question is, will that translate to the field?