The Cincinnati Bengals defied all odds in 2021, going from four wins and a last-place finish to winning the AFC North and advancing all the way to the Super Bowl. Led by star quarterback Joe Burrow, the Bengals put the entire AFC on notice with their incredible run.

But how will they build on such a performance? For starters, they went out and revamped their offensive line, which was a turnstile in front of Burrow for each of his first two seasons in the league.

The draft saw Cincinnati address the secondary, bringing in Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt, two versatile defensive backs who figure to help shore up the back end of the pass defense.

Cincinnati should be right there once again in the 2022 NFL season. In order for them to take the next step, however, they will need other players to step up.

Some players who may not have been expected to have a large role will have to be ready to contribute. That said, who will be the Bengals' X-Factor in 2022?

The answer will surprise you.

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Bengals Surprising X-Factor In 2022 NFL Season 

The Bengals' X-Factor in the 2022 NFL season will be tight end Hayden Hurst. Hurst signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Cincinnati back in March after the departure of C.J. Uzomah for the New York Jets.

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Hurst is stepping into a starting role for the second time in his career, as he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons with that role in mind after sitting behind Pro Bowler Mark Andrews with the Baltimore Ravens.

A former first-round pick, Hurst hasn't exactly lived up to that billing, though the opportunities have been scarce since he entered the NFL.

The 28-year-old flashed his skills during the 2019 season with the Falcons, tallying 56 catches for 571 yards and six touchdowns, all career-highs.

Now, he's stepping into arguably the best situation of his career. He'll be catching passes from Burrow, the best quarterback he has ever played with and a star emerging as one of the very best signal-callers in the league.

Hurst will also benefit from playing alongside the likes of Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase and fellow talented wideout Tee Higgins, who should each attract plenty of defensive attention.

Hurst should see plenty of pass-catching opportunities in the Bengals' offense, which ranked seventh in passing yards per game.

Plus, Cincinnati figures to sling it just as often, if not more frequently, with Burrow that much farther away from his season-ending knee injury from his rookie year.

Hurst will thrive in this pass-heavy environment, putting up the best numbers of his career.