All-Pro Stephon Gilmore Could Be Missing Piece to Another Bengals Super Bowl Run

The Cincinnati Bengals put together a magical 2021 season. Zac Taylor’s squad posted a 10-7 record and went on an improbable playoff run to Super Bowl 56. Not many expected the team to have much success, but Cincinnati won’t sneak up on anyone in 2022. To contend again, the Bengals should be looking at a talented player still seeking a contract — Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore spent most of the 2021 season with the Carolina Panthers, but now he’s an unrestricted free agent. Surely, the 31-year-old cornerback would like to play for a contender. The reigning AFC champions undoubtedly fit the bill and could be an ideal landing spot for Gilmore.

Stephon Gilmore is one of the best players still available

Panthers cornerback Stephon Gilmore is a prime free agency target for the Bengals
Stephon Gilmore of the Carolina Panthers catches pass before game against the Buffalo Bills | Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

At one point in time, many people considered Stephon Gilmore to be the best cornerback in the NFL.

The South Carolina product spent the first five years of his career with the Buffalo Bills before playing the next five for the New England Patriots. New England traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers early in the 2021 season in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round draft pick.

The five-time Pro Bowler suffered a quadriceps injury in 2020, which set him back a bit. However, he proved he still has the tools to be an elite corner in this league.

Gilmore has recorded 427 tackles, 116 passes defended, 27 interceptions, and six forced fumbles in 132 games across 10 seasons.

Pro Football Focus gave Gilmore a grade of 77.1 for the 2021 season. He allowed just 15 receptions throughout the year.

The Cincinnati Bengals need to bolster their secondary and should be making an aggressive run at Stephon Gilmore.

Why the Bengals must pursue the All-Pro cornerback

The Bengals surprised a lot of people in 2021. While Joe Burrow and the offense stole the show, the defense quietly improved year over year.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit finished with the NFL’s 17th-ranked defense. Cincinnati’s strength was in stopping the run. The Bengals ranked fifth in that department, allowing just 102.4 rushing yards per game and 15 touchdowns on the season.

Cincinnati didn’t enjoy nearly as much success defending the pass. The defense gave up 248.3 passing yards per game to opposing offenses (seventh-worst). The unit also gave up 26 scores through the air.

Stephon Gilmore is one of the best cover corners in all of football. Considering his track record, he should be able to come right in and make a significant impact from Day 1. Cincinnati re-signed Eli Apple, but he gets beat by receivers pretty often. On the other hand, Gilmore would assume the No. 1 corner role and share the field with Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie.

Cincinnati has the pieces to get back to the Super Bowl in 2022

The Bengals won the AFC North for the first time since 2015. They were far from a perfect team during the regular season, but they got hot down the stretch, leading to a Super Bowl appearance.

Zac Taylor’s crew is shaping up to be even stronger in 2022. Joe Burrow leads the charge, and he returns most of his key weapons from a season ago. Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd form one of the most dangerous skill position groups in the NFL.

The biggest knock on Cincinnati’s offense was the offensive line. The front office has done an excellent job of addressing the issue in the offseason. The Bengals have already signed Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. By keeping Burrow upright, this offense can go to another level.

Defensively, Cincinnati still has some holes. However, adding a player of Stephon Gilmore’s caliber would go a long way to becoming a more balanced football team.

With the AFC looking deeper than ever, it’s all hands on deck for the Bengals.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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