Bengals' pass rush needs clear improvement in 2017

CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals are three weeks into free agency, they have a more accurate picture of how the roster will look heading into the 2017 draft.

We're taking a look at each position, how it changed in free agency and where it stands now.

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Defensive ends: Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Will Clarke, Ryan Brown, Wallace Gilberry

Defensive tackles: Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams, David Dean

Departures: Domata Peko, Margus Hunt

State of the position: With longtime nose tackle Domata Peko gone, the most likely candidate to replace him is 2016 fourth-round pick Andrew Billings. The Bengals were impressed with Billings in the preseason, but a torn meniscus cost him his rookie season.

It's yet to be determined how Billings will bounce back, something Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin alluded to at the NFL combine. Marcus Hardison and Brandon Thompson also didn't play last season due to injury.

"The story is still to be written on those guys the more they get to play," Tobin said. "It's hard when you lose young players and they don't get to play at all their first year, because they come back to you a rookie that next year.

"Will Andrew Billings be the Andrew Billings that we knew Andrew Billings to be? What about Hardison? That position group has a lot of unknowns. ... Brandon Thompson. You have three guys at [the] same position that didn't play at all last year. All we have hope for, and hopefully [they] will come on with what we want."

While the position is a bit more stable at defensive end with Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson returning, the Bengals clearly need an upgrade to their pass rush. There's no move to replace Johnson coming anytime soon, but he has only had 5.5 sacks in the last two seasons. They need help.

The team had only 33 team sacks in 2016, tied for 19th. Although they had 42 sacks in 2015, they were ranked last in the NFL with 20 sacks only the year before.

The Bengals' best bet is to draft a pass-rusher early and figure out how to fit him in the defense. Outside of Dunlap and Geno Atkins, they didn't get enough production from anyone else on the team.

Cincinnati often brings its rookies along slowly, but even someone used only as a situational pass-rusher in 2017 would be an upgrade from what they have now.