Vontaze Burfict went from unsigned rookie free agent to starting linebacker.
In 2012, the Cincinnati Bengals signed Vontaze Burfict as an undrafted free agent. Burfict went on to earn a starting spot at linebacker and lead the team in tackles. Marvin Lewis and his staff will be looking to find instant contributors in this year's draft to overcome weaknesses and manage the salary cap.
Obviously, early-round picks are expected to contribute almost immediately: Rookie Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles, and RGIII, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson have made headlines all year. Here is a look at prospects that the Bengals could draft who would contribute instantly to the Bengals team.
Whoever they select in the first round, the Bengals will expect him to step in and contribute immediately. There are three positions worthy of the No. 1 pick: running back, linebacker and safety.
Ball, the all-time NCAA leader in rushing TDs, brings a combination of incredible balance, a high football IQ and a winning mentality to the NFL. Lacy had over 1300 yards rushing and 17 TDs for the BCS champion Crimson Tide.
At linebacker, Georgia's Alec Ogletree is the most likely candidate. His size and jaw-jarring intensity would be deadly with Burfict.
At safety, LSU's Eric Reid could also step in and immediately compete for the starting safety spot. It's still unclear where the Bengals will spend their first pick, but I expect a defensive playmaker.
In the second round, Florida safety Matt Elam fits most easily into the Bengals defense. Offensively, North Carolina's Giovani Bernard is a running back with the skills to fit in smoothly with Jay Gruden's squad.
Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2012. He accumulated over 100 yards of total offense in every game including a four-game stretch where he averaged 231 and also scored seven touchdowns.
With two second-round picks, these two could end up in stripes, especially if the first pick is spent on a linebacker.
Round 3 holds the Bengals' fourth pick of the draft. By the time of this pick, the Bengals will likely have drafted a running back, a linebacker and a safety. Other areas to begin focusing on are offensive tackle and backup quarterback.
At tackle, Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner and Virginia's Oday Aboushi would be great additions. Both of these players could benefit from a year behind veteran and Pro Bowler Andrew Whitworth.
It's still too early to draft a quarterback being that Andy Dalton is two-for-two in getting to the playoffs.
This is the earliest to look for a quarterback. The big-name quarterbacks should be off the board by this point, which is good because the Bengals have Dalton.
Unless Manuel is still around, this pick should be spent on a different position. USC's TJ McDonald is receiving attention from Cincinnati scouts. McDonald's resemblance to Taylor Mays, however, worries me. McDonald is a big-hitting safety with room to improve in coverage.
They should go in a different direction and draft Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter. Porter has tremendous upside and the ability to play both inside and outside. Adding Sean Porter to Alec Ogletree will set the foundation for a solid linebacking corps for years to come.
For the Bengals' sixth pick in the 2013 draft, they should pick up Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse. Rouse, possibly the shortest player in the draft, has a build similar to Bengals' WR Andrew Hawkins. At 5'7", 190 pounds, Rouse hides behind his linemen rather easily.
Rouse is also versed in operating within the passing game out of the backfield. Rouse had over 400 receiving yards in 2012 including two touchdowns.
The potentially polar combo of Giovani Bernard and Robbie Rouse adds the perfect combination of speed and agility to add with the experience of Benjarvus Green-Ellis.
Rouse can step in today and be effective within the offense. His size is an asset in any system, and the real test will be his blocking ability.
Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter possesses the skill set and size on third down to contribute to the Bengals offense immediately. At 6'4", with a build similar to A.J. Green's, Hunter could be the threat needed to fill the No. 2-receiver spot. It's been between the temples, however, that hurt Hunter's chances.
Having been accused of being unfocused, Hunter needs to use his interviews and workouts as opportunities to set the record straight on his work ethic.
Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will likely compete for the No. 2-receiver spot. Bringing in another receiver will only fuel that fire and continue to morph the Bengals offense. I think Hunter's draft stock will actually drop before the draft, but Marvin and the Bengals will take the risk.
After his Senior Bowl appearance, I expect Landry Jones' stock to drop off. If the Bengals aren't able to get EJ Manuel in the fourth round, they could likely have a chance to get Landry Jones on the last day. With the Bengals facing Brady, Rodgers and Luck all at home in 2013, the scout team quarterback will be a key position. Someone like Landry Jones is great for a role like this because he has shown the ability in his college career but isn't yet ready for the NFL spotlight.
I also wouldn't be surprised if San Jose State's David Quessenberry or Syracuse's Justin Pugh weren't in the discussion going into the third day.