The offseason of evaluation is underway, and the Cincinnati Bengals will be hoping for another successful one.
With the threat of losing Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer and Hue Jackson largely in the rear-view, attention can now be focused on scouting.
The Bengals have a number of holes that need filling, and with three picks in the top fifty-five they are in prime position to do just that.
Here's a handful of NFL hopefuls who make it onto the Bengals' wish list.
I was blown away by Franklin's ability to stop, start and get to full speed (which is very fast) in a flash. He's very good pressing the hole, bursting through and making defenders miss in the second level. I didn't know he was only 195 lbs until looking it up after reviewing his film. For his size, Franklin can flash power with an ability to break tackles. He plays low and shows low center of gravity and balance; making him a hard target to knock down. His open field elusiveness is the best in this class. An excellent receiving back, Franklin was a consistent weapon for UCLA. He looked like the total package at times.
Franklin has been turning heads down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, and many will be expecting big things.
If Franklin is going to make a push for the top RB spot in this years draft he may well be off the board before the Bengals get a chance to draft him.
He could provide stellar relief for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm was productive but not spectacular in 2012, and Franklin's speed and MJD-like, low-to-the-ground elusiveness could make for a great one-two punch.
Rey Maualuga could be on his way out the door. Vontaze Burfict has shown real talent this year and could be the man to take his spot.
Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson may well return, but it has become clear that some new blood is needed within the linebacking core.
The guys over at Stripe Hype anticipate the departure of Rey Maualuga and/or Manny Lawson this offseason, and would like to see Alec Ogletree fill the void:
We aren’t too sure how Thomas Howard will look while coming back from an injury. Ogletree is a very good linebacker, and very good in coverage. He is a converted safety, and he has a high motor. He hustles to the ball and has a projected 40 time of 4.6. Ogletree would be an immediate starter and would have a good impact on this defense.
Ogletree has played safety in the past and he's carried those smarts and that awareness with him since.
He can blitz the QB as well as providing some long absent help in pass coverage.
There's a slim chance he falls as far as the Bengals. If he does, they have to pull the trigger.
The Bengals need to give Chris Crocker a big thank you.
The veteran safety rejoined the Bengals early in the 2012 season after being let go when the Bengals realised that Taylor Mays was not going to be their guy.
Crocker put together a season of admirable performances and provided some stability within the secondary.
However, he remains a stopgap.
The Bengals should look to take a safety early, and one man they should set their sights on is Matt Elam from Florida.
Walter Football gives Elam a glowing report and expects him to go early in the second:
Elam is the complete package as a safety. He covers a lot of ground in pass coverage since he has the ability to run with receivers and tight ends. Elam is a physical, tough safety who does well in run support, too. He excels in any aspect of safety play...Elam is an intelligent player who should only get better with experience. He is also a hard hitter who punishes receivers when given the opportunity.
The Bengals defensive ends continue to be one of the best facetsof the team. However one more body in the line up could tip them over the edge and make them truly special.
If Michael Johnson heads elsewhere via free agency, the Bengals will have to seriously consider going DE in the first round or else risk taking a step back.
Peter Schrager of Fox Sports thinks the Bengals will go DE in the first round, and likes what he has seen from Alex Okafor:
Okafor would be a great fit in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 scheme. Though not the name his teammate Jackson Jeffcoat was at Texas, Okafor went from a special teams standout in his freshman season to a defensive force in his last two years. Capable of playing defensive tackle or defensive end, he’d be a nice addition to an already dangerous Bengals defensive line.
Okafor is making serious waves down at the Senior Bowl, and the Bengals will be taking note.
He's tipped as one of the best DE's on offer this year but will need a helping hand in translating his game to the NFL.
Cincinnati and Mike Zimmer's defense would be the perfect place for him to do it.
Not sold on Okafor?
Well how about LSU DE Sam Montgomery?
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com has the Bengals taking Montgomery in the first round:
This lean All-SEC pick and Ted Hendricks Award finalist used very good quickness and a high motor to rack up nine sacks and chase down ball carriers all over the field in 2011. Like his high-profile teammate, Barkevious Mingo, Montgomery’s progression as a defensive player stagnated during his LSU career. Montgomery has some limitations as a pass rusher, but is a high motor player who holds his ground well against the run and constantly making tackles in pursuit. He figures to go on the second day of the NFL draft, projecting to a second or early third round pick.
Montgomery may have stagnated somewhat at LSU, but the Bengals will look past that if the talent is there.
Take Vontaze Burfict for example. He may have come with little risk as a UDFA but regardless, the Bengals put aside his sloppy and inconsistent play at ASU based on his potential.
There's a number of defensive ends available to the Bengals and I'm not going to pretend to know which one Cincy might take.
The fact is they love their pass-rushers and they'll probably take a few of 'em on draft day.