The last few years, the Bengals have racked up draft picks and used them very wisely, with picks like Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham paying off so far.
Although Cincinnati made the playoffs in 2012-2013, it was never considered a true contender, but it is close. They need to address issues at linebacker, safety and a few other positions that aren't as much of a pressing matter. But what young prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft could help improve this Bengals team?
This 6'4", 241-pound linebacker out of LSU was super impressive at the combine, and the Bengals are hoping that he can possibly fall to the No. 21 pick. With not too many teams looking for outside linebackers and Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogltetree also on the board, Cincinnati has a shot—and they sure could use him.
Vontaze Burfict has been a pleasant surprise so far, but on the opposite side, Manny Lawson could be lost to free agency.
You add that with the awful year that Rey Maualuga had, and it doesn't look good for the Bengals' linebacking unit as they head into 2013, unless they can use their first-round pick to snatch up a stud.
A few months ago, there was no way that Manti Te'o could be drafted as late as the No. 21 pick, but now it seems that the Heisman runner-up may even fall past that.
This has allowed LSU's Kevin Minter to rise as the top middle linebacker prospect in this draft. Minter is not the biggest or most athletic player to play the position, but he makes up for it with his aggression and great instincts, which was lacking in Maualuga's game last year.
With such a great defensive line a season ago, the Bengals need to boost up their second line of defense so that they can blitz even more, adding to an already formidable pass rush.
Cincinnati doesn't require a huge playmaker in this situation, it just needs a consistent and smart leader to anchor that defense.
The senior out of Texas is built perfectly to play free safety at 6'0", 214 lbs and is incredibly athletic. The best safety in the Big 12, if not the whole country, Kenny Vaccaro shined on a Texas team that struggled, essentially shutting down his part of the field for opposing offenses.
With Taylor Mays being a bust in the NFL, the Bengals are extremely weak at the safety position with aging players such as Chris Crocker, Reggie Nelson and Nate Clements.
Leon Hall is a solid corner and the young Dre Kirkpatrick will be the future on the other side, but last season, their secondary still struggled to get help over the top.
Countless times, Clements (a corner forced to play safety) got burned for touchdowns. Vaccaro is a no-brainer for the Bengals as long as he is still available.
The speedy running back out of North Carolina had a breakout season this year with 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 184 attempts. Bernard is a little undersized, sitting at 5'10", 205 lbs, but he is super quick and has great field vision, which makes him valuable in the return game as well.
Cincinnati has one of the better offensive lines in the league, but Benjarvus Green-Ellis was not very impressive. He wasn't a total bust for the Bengals, but he is just an average back that is not utilizing a stellar line.
The Bengals need a consistent running game that can make plays on its own to take some pressure off of Andy Dalton. Also, Bernard and Green-Ellis could be an effective duo in the backfield and Bernard could help Cincy improve their 22.6 yard average on kickoffs.
Like I said earlier, the Bengals need to get younger and just plain better at the safety position and drafting Elam would be a nice start. The junior out of Florida has the speed, intelligence and strength at the line to be effective in the league, even if he is slightly under-sized at 5'10", 208 lbs.
It might be a reach to pick Elam with the No. 21 overall pick, but I don't see him falling to the Bengals' second-round picks. If they decide to pass on Elam in the first round, then they could also go for the second-best rated strong safety in the draft: Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien.