Cincinnati Bengals Zero-Snap Spotlight: David Dean

Oct 31, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) is sacked by Virginia Cavaliers defensive end Trent Corney (43) and defensive tackle David Dean (55) during the first half at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) is sacked by Virginia Cavaliers defensive end Trent Corney (43) and defensive tackle David Dean (55) during the first half at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports /

Continuing to look at the Cincinnati Bengals roster with the Zero-Snap Spotlight series, looking at defensive lineman David Dean.

The Zero-Snap Spotlight series has already seen two parts, taking a deeper dive into the potential of unknown pieces on the Cincinnati Bengals roster. They aren’t the stars, but they are players that could have a role to play in the 2017 season.

These players are prevalent on the roster, and all share on similarity. They have yet to take a snap in the NFL, despite having been on the Bengals roster for varying amounts of time.

I’ve begun the series by covering Andrew Billings and Marcus Hardison. To continue things, I’m delving into yet another defensive lineman on the roster: David Dean.

Dean was a quality interior lineman in college, using a quick jump at the snap and inherent strength to blast through his opposition. This was shown off through his final three years at Virginia, with him picking up 134 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, seven pass knockdowns, three forced fumbles, and one interception in that time. His senior season was the best agglomeration of stats he produced in college (45 tackles, eight tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass knockdowns, one forced fumble), giving him a second-straight year as an All-ACC honorable mention and setting his draft stock as high as he could.

Unfortunately for him, those positives didn’t end up being enough to get him drafted. His habit of playing too high, short arms, and lack of consistency were weaknesses teams apparently saw as too much for him to overcome at the next level, and he wound up undrafted.

More from NFL Spin Zone

At that point, Cincinnati decided to take a chance and bring him in. It seemed like a quality chance to take, one which almost worked out in a big way for him. He stuck on through training camp and the preseason, but eventually ended up getting cut before the regular season began.

Though he didn’t make the active roster, the team saw something they liked apparently, keeping him on the practice squad for the year. With the depth/ineffectiveness issues the team suffered on the defensive line throughout 2016, it may have served them well to give him a call-up and put him in some actual games. That didn’t end up happening however, and it may be even more difficult this time around for Dean to find a place on the roster.

Last year showed the team needed an influx of youthful depth into the defensive line, and we’ve seen the team make those such moves not just this offseason, but in the past couple years.

Cincinnati let go of long-time interior lineman Domata Peko this offseason. They selected two interior players in the most recent draft (Ryan Glasgow, Josh Tupou). The year before they added Billings by that method and Dean in undrafted free agency, and two years ago Hardison and DeShawn Williams were brought in. With these players, the team now has numerous youthful talents to choose from for depth.

Not all of them can make the roster though, of course. Five interior linemen is about the limit for even 4-3 base defense teams — six would be possible, but a notable stretch. The team already has Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, and Brandon Thompson in place. Even if Sims and Thompson both get cut (Sims’ underwhelming 2016 — and Thompson’s entire career — would support the notion, but Cincinnati tends to hold onto players longer than they maybe should), we’re still looking at seven players for at most six roster spots.

More from Cincinnati Bengals

Let’s roll with the premise of Sims and Thompson being released. Atkins will head the group again. Billings was drafted with the idea of eventually replacing Peko, so though he missed 2016 to injury he should be a practical lock. Williams hasn’t received a large role yet, but has done decently well in limited action. A draft pick was just spent on Glasgow. That’s already four spots.

Between the remaining three guys, Dean may have the weakest argument for a spot. Hardison’s speed and pass rushing skills from formerly working on the edge put him ahead if he can stay healthy (that’s questionable; he hasn’t played in two professional seasons due to injuries). Tupou could slate as the backup nose tackle strictly due to his girth.

Dean may have a claim as the most productive of these players back in college, but his upside isn’t as high as the others in the NFL. It’s debatable how much teams should really desire that upside over consistent (if not high-end) production, but it can’t be denied that they often do so.

Hardison can make himself into a key rotation player (with an outside shot at a starting role) if he has health on his side. Tupou already has the size needed to eat up space in the middle, and could improve to be a force on running downs.

Dean doesn’t appear to offer that. He is currently what he’ll be: a decent rotation guy who can succeed as part of a unit, but will rarely make plays happen himself. That sort of player can find success, but they tend to be the sort of player targeted for replacement every year, and when teams have other possible options in tow who could possibly reach a higher level, it’s tough to see them going with the lower-variance option.

Next: NFL 2017: The 50 most untradeable players

With that in mind, even removing both Sims and Thompson from the equation doesn’t appear to help Dean’s case for a spot. If injuries strike the players above him in the leadup to the season, maybe there’s a shot for him to pick up a spot, but I wouldn’t bank on it.