10 NFL Combine Prospects That the Cincinnati Bengals Must Closely Watch
The Cincinnati Bengals, in particular, will be viewing all positions—as every other team will be—but will keep a keen eye on certain needs that must be filled through this draft.
Positions that will matter most to the Bengals coming into this combine will be safety, linebacker, defensive end, running back and cornerback.
Other positions such as offensive line and wide receivers (and even quarterback) will be looked at and heavily scrutinized, but these are afterthoughts and value additions for the Bengals this year.
That being said, let's take a look at 10 players the Bengals should be watching intently during the 2013 NFL combine (in no particular order).
Ellington stands at 5'10" and weighs 190 pounds. This is a perfect size for a change-of-pace back heading into the NFL. At this size, Ellington may not be able to carry a full workload, but could certainly contribute in a time-share nicely.
Some of Ellington's better attributes are his straight-line speed and ability to hit the hole with a nice burst while keeping up his acceleration. He also has great vision and is elusive in the open field.
Even as a smaller back, he has been durable and can bounce off big hits. He is a dual-threat out of the backfield and has shown great hands throughout his collegiate career.
Also, importantly, he has shown a great skill set as a returner—something the Bengals could use if they are to part ways with Brandon Tate.
Some weaknesses in his game is his lack of power on inside runs and needs to improve in pass protection.
Currently, Ellington is rated anywhere from a second- to third-round of the draft this year. His combine performance will be a huge factor that decides in which of those rounds he may be chosen.
A prospect for the Bengals in the first round of the 2013 draft is BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Currently, the Bengals have defensive ends in Michael Johnson, Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers heading to free agency. This position needs to be shored up quickly either by re-signing players mentioned above or going for an end early in the draft.
If the Bengals do, in fact, go for a defensive end early, Ansah would be a top priority.
Standing at 6'6" and 270 pounds, Ansah has the physique of the aforementioned Johnson. Ansah also has the same type of skill set that Johnson immediately brought to the table after being drafted.
Ansah can play the defensive end position as well as at the outside linebacker position, which are two great needs for Cincinnati. However, how will his particular skills translate to the NFL? This question will be answered for the most part during drills at the combine.
Coaches will be able to get up close with this huge defensive end and determine what his strengths may be in his 2014 rookie NFL season.
Some strengths for Ansah are his ability to shed blockers at the line of scrimmage due to his enormous amount of power and length. One major weakness, however, is his lack of stamina. He only has one full season at his current position and needs to condition himself to play at the next level.
Ansah will most definitely have plenty of eyes on him at the combine this year. Most teams will be watching to see how winded he gets after certain positional drills. The Bengals coaching staff will certainly be watching every moment.
Aaron Mellette could be looked at in great detail by the Bengals this year if they are looking to draft a talented, physical wide receiver at a great value.
Mellette, who played his collegiate football at Elon, stands at 6'4" and weighs in at 212 pounds. Having another huge wide receiver like this to develop into a possible starter opposite A.J. Green is something in which the Bengals should take interest.
Many will say that the addition of Mohamed Sanu last year will erase the need to look for a receiver like Mellette, but that really should not be the case.
Sanu showed that he can be reliable, but did not have much playing time and failed to stay healthy after only a handful of games. As long as there is no clear-cut starter in Cincinnati, the Bengals should certainly keep looking.
Mellette recorded 85 receptions last season at Elon and averaged over 100 yards per game—he also found the end zone 12 times.
He has great height and can easily shield defenders on short, slant routes or on longer sideline routes. He has the size and length to be a solid contributor at the next level.
A large weakness in his skill set is his straight-line speed. He is very average, at best, and does not possess the type of burst to get past an NFL secondary.
He is a must-watch at the combine so coaches will be able to gauge just how to use his skills to their highest potential at the next level. Quite possibly, his straight-line speed could be deceiving during his 40-yard dash if he can put up a decent figure.
It is very much up in the air as to when Mellette will be drafted this year, but the combine will certainly give us a much clearer view.
Alec Ogletree has been viewed at as first-round prospect since his departure from Georgia this past season.
However, his stock may have dropped after his recent DUI in Arizona this past weekend.
Ogletree will need to say all the right things to scouts and coaches at the combine, as well as put up a great performance if he hopes to maintain his first-round caliber status.
Seen as a very punishing linebacker against the run and also above average in coverage, this is the type of player that Cincinnati could benefit greatly from to bolster a very questionable unit headed into 2013.
Pairing Ogletree with Vontaze Burfict would immediately create an impact on the defensive side of the ball for Cincinnati. The defense would immediately become more aggressive in a very tough AFC North division.
Bengals coaches will need to pay very close attention to determine exactly where they feel Ogletree will land in the upcoming draft as they have the 21st selection in the first round and also two selections in the second round.
The combine will be a make-or-break day for Ogletree, and the Bengals will be watching intently to decide if they will be able to look elsewhere in the first round and possibly claim this sought after linebacker soon after in the second round.
Interviews with the coaching staff will be very important to both Ogletree and the Bengals staff; the latter has dealt with character issues in the past and needs to make sure he will not continue down the same path once he begins his NFL career.
Matt Elam is probably the most intriguing prospect at the safety position in this year's draft class. He is a very dynamic player on the field and plays with a very high amount of emotion and electricity. However, he has been seen taking plays off from time to time which is a concern for many coaches around the NFL.
Elam could provide two different "highlight reels" to NFL teams.
First, he could provide a reel of huge hits and great emotion on the field as he tends to become overly excited once his number is called. He provides some great splash plays both in coverage and also lining up in the box for run support.
Second, he could also provide a reel of plays in which he will pull up to allow another teammate to make a play instead of keeping himself at full speed for the duration. This has been a problem with his consistency throughout his career at Florida and he will need to prove otherwise to NFL coaches.
If Elam is successful during the combine, he could potentially increase his stock to a first-round level. If not, he could end up going in the late-second round which would provide a nice value, but some concerns come along with him.
At 5'10" and 206 pounds, Elam is not the largest safety out there and needs to show that he can keep up his intensity for the duration of the game and is worthy of becoming a full-time starter at the next level.
With the Bengals searching for an answer at free safety, they will most certainly look into this intriguing story around Elam.
Giovani Bernard has the potential to be the first running back taken in the 2013 draft class. There are not any clear-cut, must-have running backs in which teams are clamoring for early in the first round. However, if there were to be a potential first-round-caliber running back, Bernard would fit the bill.
Bernard has the size (5'10", 205 pounds) of the prototypical NFL speed back. What is nice about Bernard is that he will constantly give effort into finishing his runs by twisting and falling forward for extra yardage. This is something that is not done by many of the backs that are in this particular category.
This running back has great vision and has tremendous talent to find cut-back lanes. He runs with a very fluid motion and is above average in pass protection. This gives him the chance to start immediately in the NFL.
One drawback to Bernard is his injury history. Early in his collegiate career, he tore his ACL. It has since been repaired and he has been electrifying on the field. However, early this past season, he did complain about discomfort in the same knee.
This has to throw up red flags for many coaches and it is something that will be heavily addressed in interviews with Bernard.
The last thing the Bengals need is another running back with injury problems. They need to take a very close look at Bernard to decide if they would be selecting another Chris Perry or not.
Arthur Brown could very well be the most complete linebacker in the 2013 draft. Brown has the lower-body power to stop the largest of ball-carriers in their tracks. He also has great vision to get into the backfield and allow pressure on the quarterback. Brown has also excelled in pass coverage throughout his tenure at Kansas State.
Brown is seen by many as an undersized linebacker for the NFL's standards (he stands at 6'1", 228 pounds), but he plays much larger than his size indicates. He has tremendous lower-body power and huge hands which make him a formidable matchup against NFL-sized players.
Brown's 2012 stats really sum up his ability to play every scenario as a linebacker. He amassed 100 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, one sack, four pass breakups and two interceptions.
A very smart player, Brown is capable of getting himself in the right position to make a play on the ball both at the line of scrimmage and in coverage.
With Brown seen as a smaller linebacker, he may be shifted from his collegiate position of middle linebacker to the weak-side position in the NFL. This would work perfectly for the Bengals as they plan to bring Burfict into the middle for the upcoming season.
This player will most certainly be one of the most sought after linebackers in the upcoming draft and the Bengals will have a keen eye upon him for the duration of the combine.
Tyrann Mathieu, otherwise known as the "Honey Badger" decided to enter the 2013 draft after being suspended by LSU due to substance abuse issues.
Mathieu earned his nickname due to his lack of size (5'9", 175 pounds) and high amount of intensity while on the field. He has been a turnover machine throughout his collegiate career and brings up a lot of curiosity heading into the combine.
He earned the 2011 Bednarik Award for the nation's best defender because of his massive abilities on the field. However, after he was suspended for substance abuse, he did not play in 2012.
Instead, Mathieu entered a drug rehabilitation program which is a good sign that he may want to actually take his football career seriously.
If Mathieu can handle scrutiny from NFL coaches and is able to provide great interviews along with a nice showing at the combine, it will be very difficult for all 32 teams to pass on him during the duration of this year's draft.
As the Bengals secondary is thinning out due to free agency and questions regarding injury to certain players, taking a flyer on a player with a questionable past but great playmaking ability could end up being right up their alley.
Keep in mind that Mathieu is capable of playing both outside corner positions as well as the slot and can even play safety in a pinch. He is also a very dangerous punt returner and was regularly used as a blitzing corner on passing downs.
You simply can not get much more versatile than that. The Bengals, as well as every other team, will be watching this player at the combine; the question that remains is where he is viewed on the draft board.
Khaseem Greene has been such a dominant player for Rutgers since making the move to linebacker. At 6'1", 230 pounds, Greene played the free safety position before moving to his current position just two years ago.
The fact that Greene has experience playing safety really shows his potential as a coverage linebacker—something a weak-side linebacker should be capable of and something the Bengals lack.
Aside from coverage abilities, Greene is a tremendous chase-from-behind linebacker. He is very decisive and quick on pursuit of a rusher of mobile quarterback. His closing speed is tremendous, and he wreaks havoc behind the line of scrimmage.
One attribute that should be mentioned about Greene is his ability to create turnovers. He can do this in coverage as he reads the quarterbacks eyes very well while in zone, but when he tackles, he is well known for his capability of stripping the football free (he forced six fumbles in 2012).
Another very interesting note on Greene is his ability to recover from injury. Greene suffered a broken ankle in his bowl game in 2011 and missed spring practices due to this in 2012. However, it did not seem to slow him down one bit as he recorded 136 tackles on the season last year.
Greene will have to prove that he has maintained his health to coaches during the combine and will need to put up great numbers to get first-round recognition. At the moment, Greene is considered a mid-to-low-end second-round prospect which provides great value for his skill set.
Kenny Vaccaro has an amazing blend of both strength and athleticism which translates so well into the safety position on the NFL level.
Many thought Vaccaro would enter the draft after his outstanding junior season in 2011, but he decided to stay because he wanted to win the Thorpe Award for the nation's best defensive back.
This never happened for Vaccaro as the Longhorns struggled mightily in 2012, but he was still a major bright spot in Texas. He finished his 2012 campaign with 92 tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defended.
Vaccaro is also a major contributor on special teams which boosts his stock significantly heading into the NFL.
This young safety really does it all. He has great straight-line speed which allows him to keep up with faster receivers down the field. He has very strong upper body strength and can drag down larger ball-carriers. He is a great open-field tackler and is very strong with blitzes off the edge.
The largest weakness that Vaccaro currently has is his ability to be a back-half defender. He was asked mainly to defend in man coverage near the line of scrimmage during his tenure in Texas and will need to adjust to become an all-around safety in the NFL.
These things are easily coached, and Vaccaro has shown that he is versatile enough to play multiple spots on the field and learn different techniques.
If the Bengals want to land Vaccaro as their next free safety, they will most likely need to do so with their first-round pick at 21st overall. Unless Vaccaro has a terrible combine, there is no doubt that he will be a first-round talent in the 2013 draft.
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