For the casual football fan, this time of year is full of repetition and theoretical story lines. However, to the football aficionados, the time between the Super Bowl and the draft is a chance to test our talent evaluation skills.
Several analysts have produced their mock drafts and each of them is valid for various reasons. One thing remains consistent, the Bengals will draft either a running back, linebacker or safety with their first pick. What remains to be seen, however, is which of these positions is worthy of the 21st pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
What Marvin Lewis and company decide to do with their first pick will have ramifications later on in the draft. Here, I will dissect how the Bengals 2013 draft class can vary depending on who, or what position, they decide to draft in the first two rounds.
The Bengals need a safety. Veterans Chris Crocker and Nate Clements are both expensive and experienced, and the young talent is unreliable. The Bengals will likely acquire a rookie safety from the draft. They could even get one with their first pick.
Josh Norris of NFL.com predicts that the Bengals will take John Cyprien with their first pick, a safety from Florida International. Other safeties that could be chosen there are Eric Reid from LSU or Matt Elam from Florida.
Taking a safety in the first would mean that the Bengals must focus on a linebacker and running back in the second round. Texas A&M's Sean Porter could be that linebacker. Possible running backs include Clemson's Andre Ellington, North Carolina's Giovani Bernard and Oregon's Kenjon Barner.
By selecting a safety first, the Bengals will automatically upgrade their defensive secondary. Clements and Crocker will likely be lost to younger, more inexpensive talent. Adam Jones and Leon Hall both had solid years at corner, and Dre Kirkpatrick will be looking to stay healthy and, therefore, on the field.
Upgrading the linebacking core will then become the main priority, and the Bengals could spend as many as two of their first four picks on linebackers.
This then means that the running back role becomes the third biggest priority, which is good news for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This would mean that the personnel department is looking for someone to complement Green-Ellis, rather than potentially replace him. This would be a risky move considering the Law Firm's attraction to the training tables the latter part of the 2012 season.
If a safety is taken first, it looks like this:
- Safety - Eric Reid, LSU
- Linebacker - Sean Porter, Texas A&M
- Running Back - Andre Ellington, Clemson
Most mock drafts have the Bengals taking a linebacker first. The jury is still out on whether or not an inside backer or outside backer is needed more. However, many names have been mentioned.
The most commonly heard name for inside linebacker is Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. The Bengals may look to move Vontaze Burfict back to inside linebacker, however.
Of the eligible outside linebackers, a few different names have been mentioned. Georgia's Alec Ogletree, however, is an early favorite should the Bengals choose an OLB, although Ogletree's off the field issues have raised flags as well.
Taking a linebacker first dramatically upgrades the line backing core immediately. With the names expected to be on the board, any linebacker chosen will be expected to contribute to the Bengals' defense. I'd like the Bengals to pick up another linebacker with a late round pick, as well.
Considering the lack of need for running backs in the first round, the Bengals can afford to hold off on picking up a running back with their second pick, since they have two in the second round. This makes safety the next highest priority.
Someone like Florida safety Matt Elam is likely to be the second pick; not the best at his position but undoubtedly top five. This will allow the Bengals to get a similarly ranked player at running back, also in the second round. Someone like UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Stanford's Stepfan Taylor or Wisconsin's Montee Ball.
If a linebacker is chosen first, it looks like this:
- Linebacker - Alec Ogletree, Georgia
- Safety - Matt Elam, Florida
- Running Back - Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
NFL.com has the first round projections from eight of its analysts. Of those eight, five of them have no running backs being drafted in the first round. For the projections that include a running back, only one ball carrier is chosen in all three mock drafts: Eddie Lacy.
This goes to show that running backs are much less of a commodity this year than in previous years. The Bengals need a running back, but have the luxury of waiting until the second or third round to look for one since they aren't as in high demand.
If the Bengals were to spend their first pick on a running back, it would have to be a high profile enough player to justify not waiting until the second round. The only name available that remotely fits that mold is Alabama's Eddie Lacy, and that just wouldn't make sense for the Bengals.
Lacy's style is largely comparable to BenJarvus Green-Ellis'. The Law Firm still has two years remaining on his contract, so bringing in another bruiser-type wouldn't make sense.
North Carolina's Giovani Bernard is probably the most worthy candidate to be chosen, should the Bengals select a running back with their first pick.
Selecting a running back first would then make linebacker the next priority and dropping safety to number three. The Bengals roster is filled with third tier safeties, so this wouldn't be a smart decision.
If a running back is taken first, it looks like this: