Despite making the playoffs for the third time in four years, the Cincinnati Bengals still have plenty of holes to fill and several positions that need to be upgraded before next season.
The Bengals will have all kinds of options with three picks in the first 53 slots in the draft thanks to the Carson Palmer trade. As a result, the Bengals should be able pick up players that can not only help but can make an immediate impact right away.
The 10 players that I have selected should all be available when the Bengals pick, and all would make their mark with the team from the moment they step on the field.
Safety is a position that the Bengals desperately need to upgrade. By the end of the season, the Bengals were starting Chris Crocker and Nate Clements at safety, one guy who was cut in training camp and the other a corner.
Matt Elam needs work on his coverage, but he is a big hitter and a sure tackler. But more importantly, he is a playmaker. He has six career interceptions and had 11 tackles and a sack in the Sugar Bowl. His presence alone would make the Bengals defense better.
Barrett Jones is better known for his sideline spat with quarterback A.J. McCarron during the BCS National Championship Game, but Jones is a big-time talent who will help any team.
Jones won the Rimington Award (named after former Bengal Dave Rimington) this year as the nation’s best center and the Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman last season. He has played all three line spots in his career and has done so equally well.
The Bengals need help at guard and may need upgrades at both center and right tackle, especially if they opt to not re-sign Andre Smith. Taking Jones gives the Bengals plenty of options.
The Bengals obviously need a second receiver to complement A.J. Green if they want their offense to go to the next level, and Keenan Allen fits the bill perfectly.
Allen, who was a teammate of current Bengal Marvin Jones last season, caught 61 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns last season. At 6'3", he is a big target in the Green mold and appears to be perfect for the West Coast offense the Bengals run.
Other than A.J. Green the Bengals have lacked a true home run hitter. Tavon Austin could be that player. Whether as receiver, running back or returner, Austin made his impact felt all over the field for the Mountaineers last season.
The one knock on Austin is his size (5'9"), but he has never shied away from contact. While he might not be a legitimate downfield threat, he could thrive in the Bengals system.
Ezekiel Ansah has come on like gangbusters this season and is soaring up the charts. His combination of size (6'5", 274 pounds) and speed (4.74 in the 40) has made him a hot prospect for teams.
Considering how good the Bengals are on the defensive line, Ansah wouldn’t start, but he certainly would make his presence felt. He had 4.5 sacks and eight quarterback pressures last season.
As I wrote earlier, the Bengals desperately need a playmaker at the safety position. While T.J. McDonald may not be the playmaker that Florida’s Matt Elam is, he can still make an immediate impact at the NFL level.
He has been compared to former USC and current Bengal Taylor Mays but shows to have better instincts at the position than does Mays, something Bengal fans can appreciate.
After watching the Houston Texans take A.J. Green away during the playoffs, upgrading the wide receiver position will be one of the Bengals’ top keys. Luckily for them, there appears to plenty of options in the draft.
Terrance Williams has been torching defenses for the past two seasons. The 6'2" receiver had 97 catches for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He has 202 receptions and 27 TDs in his career. That kind of production will make the Bengals better.
Let the jokes begin. Between the phantom online girlfriend and a poor showing in the BCS National Championship Game, no player has seen his reputation slide as much as Manti Te’o’s in the past month.
But Te’o is still a very good linebacker and would represent an immediate upgrade to a position that hurt the Bengals all season. Whether the Bengals decide to keep Rey Maualuga or not, Te’o would step right in and take over.
Justin Hunter gives the Bengals another strong option to upgrade at wide receiver. The Tennessee product had over 1,000 yards receiving this past season and scored nine touchdowns.
Like some of the other receivers I have mentioned, Hunter is built like Bengal star A.J. Green. He is tall (6'4") and fast (4.49 in the 40) and would take the pressure off Green immediately.
Montee Ball is the NCAA’s all-time touchdown leader and did so at a school with a nation-wide reputation. He is big, strong and knows how to compete.
The Bengals need to upgrade at running back. While they don’t need to replace BenJarvus Green-Ellis, they do need to get more firepower. Ball would give the Bengals one of the best running back combos in the league.