As we inch closer to the start of the regular season -- and to fantasy draft parties -- we're breaking down the fantasy projections this week of the Cincinnati Bengals' top players. We conclude with the defense and special teams units, and a look at why this could easily be the first D/ST unit taken in your fantasy draft this year.
ESPN Fantasy Projection: 43 sacks, 18 interceptions, 4 TDs
Over or under: Let's go push on the sacks, under on the interceptions, and take one more push on the touchdowns. As long as it can stay healthy between now and the end of the season, this unit ought to wreak havoc. To be honest, the Bengals are so talented in their front seven that 43 sacks really could be low. But it's such a high number, and their 42 in 2015 were so dramatically higher than the league-low 20 they had the year before that they'd probably be very comfortable with this projection. Already this preseason, defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been overly dominant, picking up one sack on Teddy Bridgewater in three plays against the Minnesota Vikings last week. He was a Bridgewater stiff-arm shy of having another one in that same three-snap stretch, too. Then there's end Carlos Dunlap who set a franchise record last season when he had 13.5 sacks. Bottom line is this: expect the line to get its share of sacks.
In the secondary, however, the free-agency loss of Reggie Nelson could have an impact as the Bengals' interception numbers probably drop. His replacement, Shawn Williams, did pick off two passes last year in a mostly reserve and rotational role, so it's possible he can help fill Nelson's void. Nelson had a league-high eight picks in 2015. Four defensive or special teams touchdowns seems high, but when Adam Jones is back deep for both units, anything is possible. Heck, the Bengals did have a punt-return touchdown in last week's preseason opener, when undrafted rookie Alex Erickson went 80 yards for the score.