The Bengals face a tough decision at No.17 and No.21 in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. While the safety position is of real concern following less than stellar play from Chris Crocker, there are a number of other needs that need addressing early.
Mark Barron has been touted as the cream of a fairly weak class, with no clear No.2 prospect behind him, but instead a wealth of talented middle-round prospects. With Barron's status as a first rounder arguably due to this being a weak class, the Bengals would be wise to avoid spending a first round pick on him, with comparisons to Taylor Mays starting to gain traction.
A prospect that could be a steal for the Bengals in the third or fourth round is Kentucky Wildcat free safety Winston Guy Jr. At 6'1" and 216 lbs, Guy is the perfect size to play the position in the NFL, and packs a variety of skills into that large frame.
Guy is a versatile player, having started at corner and safety during his time at Kentucky, as well as adopting a hybrid safety-linebacker role in 2011.
He's a smart player who is wise to the technicalities of defending the aerial game, as well as having the ability to lay the wood when needed. He excels against the run, yet his ability in coverage is also impressive due to his time playing corner.
Guy is also a player of particularly solid character. Despite appearing to be "a big fish in a small pond" during his time in Kentucky, Guy has not carried himself in that manner, instead proving to be a stellar team leader and on-field presence. However, Kentucky did struggle against the might of their SEC counterparts, and on many occasions Guy was their entire defense.
In the SEC this year, Guy clocked 120 tackles (14 for a loss), two passes broken up, two interceptions as well as one forced fumble. This is particularly impressive considering the opponents the Wildcats faced, and the likelihood that opposing teams game-planned to keep the ball away from him.
A particular trait of Guy's that will sound like sweet music to Mike Zimmer, is that he has a great ability to wrap up tackles in the open field. He does bring the physicality, but is smart enough to use it only when necessary.
He shares a lot of similarities with Reggie Nelson in terms of his physicality and willingness to tackle anyone and everyone, and he is just as explosive and athletic.
He is ready to step in and start right away, but with Nelson likely to start at free safety, Guy will likely have to share time with Chris Crocker, who is in his last year under contract, unless he can upend him during training camp.
He is by no means a finished product. He needs to clean up his footwork, and react better when he gets blocked. He is a great wrap-up tackler, but shares the common college safety trait of wanting to lay a big hit, something that he should snap out of once he gets burned at the next level.
Guy is a really interesting prospect because of the versatility he has acquired by playing in Kentucky. It has given him ample opportunity to hone his craft, while not giving him the easy ride into the NFL that having Alabama or LSU on your resume might.
With the offensive line and cornerback positions looming large over the 2012 Bengals, they would be wise to hold off on drafting a safety, as they could find Guy to be one of the steals of the class.