Matchup against Chase Young shows what Bengals' rebuild is lacking

CINCINNATI -- Seven months later, the Cincinnati Bengals don't have any remorse over their draft decision.

Months before they selected Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the NFL draft, the LSU quarterback seemed like a no-brainer for a franchise looking for a key piece in its heavy rebuilding process. That meant passing on Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who racked up 27 sacks in his final two seasons with the Buckeyes and displayed all the trappings of a future All-Pro.

It appears the Bengals made the right call. Burrow, even after a rocky showing in Week 10, is in the mix to be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, when the Bengals face Young and Washington on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), they will get a firsthand look at what it will take to complete their rebuild.

With the decline of Geno Atkins and the trade of Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals don't have a dominant pass-rusher. While some on the roster have started to develop into more effective edge rushers, Young is the type of young defensive end Cincinnati needs.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said having a young, effective edge rusher is key during the rebuilding process.

"Oftentimes it's hard to see beyond that with the seven guys behind them," Taylor said regarding quality defensive lines. "Because you're just sorting out how to protect these guys and get the play off the ground. Washington is another one of those teams that has a lot of really good players up front."

Cincinnati (2-6-1) has been trending toward needing some new blood along the edges in recent years. Dunlap and Atkins were consistently the Bengals' top pass-rushers from the time they entered the league together in 2010.

However, their situations deteriorated this season.

Dunlap, officially the franchise's all-time sack leader, became increasingly disgruntled with his role on the defense. That left Cincinnati no choice but to deal him to the Seattle Seahawks before the Nov. 3 trade deadline. Atkins has been hampered by a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason and is primarily used on third downs as the Bengals try to get the most from the All-Decade defensive tackle.

And despite the emergence of Carl Lawson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal, it's clear the Bengals need more pressure from their defensive linemen. Cincinnati is tied for 27th in total sacks and is next to last in the league in pass rush win rate, an ESPN metric powered by Next Gen Stats.

"I think that would help out your résumé if you get pressure on the quarterback," Bengals linebacker Josh Bynes said. "We've definitely got to find ways [and] be able to create ways to do that. Up front, we obviously haven't had a chance to do that."

Washington was in a similar situation. In 2019, Washington drafted Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick. Haskins actually beat out Burrow for the Buckeyes' starting job in 2018, which prompted his transfer to LSU, where Burrow went on to win a national championship in a record-breaking season. One year later, Washington drafted Young.

"One of a kind," Burrow said regarding his former teammate Young. "He's a rare talent that is going to continue to get better every single game and every year."

Cincinnati really had no option but to take a quarterback with the first overall pick after deciding to move on from veteran Andy Dalton. As Washington has proved, finding that next franchise quarterback isn't easy. Haskins is behind veteran Alex Smith on the depth chart and his future with the team remains uncertain.

The Bengals believe they made the right choice at quarterback.

"We chose Joe and we're certainly thankful we did that," Taylor said. "Every year is a little different, the talent you can choose is a little different. It's hard to make those comparisons on what's critical."

In the last two drafts, the Bengals have addressed in the first round two of the three primary aspects of the game -- protecting the passer (offensive tackle Jonah Williams, 2019) and finding a quarterback (Burrow, 2020). If the Bengals address the final part of that trio -- rushing the passer -- they could find the biggest missing piece from the defense.

If the Bengals end up picking in the middle of the first round, options could include Miami's Gregory Rousseau or Michigan's Kwity Paye. Cincinnati could also decide it's not worth reaching that early for an edge rusher in this year's draft and wait until a later round.

No matter what Cincinnati decides, the 2020 season has highlighted what the Bengals are still lacking during their rebuilding project.

Said Taylor: "It starts up front on offense and defense."