While much attention has been paid to what the Cincinnati Bengals may do with their first-round draft pick this year—safety, linebacker and even right tackle (depending on what happens with Andre Smith) are all in play—with the event just one month away, it's time to go a little deeper.
Though the Bengals have positions they need to fill, likely via the draft, the team is already in good shape. In the middle rounds, Cincinnati will likely look to add depth and find some strong starter-worthy value. Here are a few players who could be on their board in Rounds 3-5.
RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M
It's no secret that the Bengals need a speedy counterpart to current running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, linking the team to top-tier prospects like Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball or Giovanni Bernard may not be realistic, considering their other first- and second-round needs.
However, that doesn't mean the Bengals cannot find the talented player they are looking for later on, having to settle instead for an untested project. Deals can always be found at the running back position outside of the first two rounds, and ultimately, considering the risks inherent to being—or drafting—a ball-carrier, it's the safest bet for teams that need to pick one up.
Enter Texas A&M's Christine Michael. Michael is the perfect mid-round running back prospect for the Bengals, one who could have a first-rounder's level of output and success in his first season. Michael was basically an afterthought as the college football season ended, as he was part of a running-back committee at A&M that gave him just 88 carries for 417 yards.
His 12 touchdowns, however, hinted at just what kind of talent he could be in the NFL.
Michael is fast—which is what the Bengals need—and incredibly elusive, making tacklers miss carry after carry. While he has some injury concerns—including his knee, which he hurt in 2011, and a broken tibia in 2010—neither appears to have affected his ability to run with authority or cut would-be tacklers out of their cleats.
This is a third- or even fourth-round pick for the Bengals that could be one of the better overall selections in the entire draft.
CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
I've already stated my case for why LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is a quintessentially perfect Bengals draft choice, and in the one month that has passed since that writing, nothing has changed.
In fact, with the reports that the Bengals have already met with and worked out Mathieu—he had "a great punt return session" last week—it appears the stars could potentially align for Mathieu to find a new home in Cincinnati.
The question is whether or not there are other teams as interested in Mathieu, and when they'd be willing to use a draft pick on him. There's probably no other player with as many off-field red flags circling him this year than Mathieu, which for some teams makes him undraftable.
However, his on-field skills and impressive display at the Scouting Combine will certainly have him in play for others.
Current Bengals cornerback Adam Jones is a perfect comparison to Mathieu, both off and on the field, but the way that Jones has turned his personal life around since being with the team makes him particularly helpful in a mentoring role to Mathieu. If Mathieu can keep his past transgressions in the past, he can be a very successful player in the NFL.
The Bengals are particularly willing to pick up players with troubled pasts and try to set them on a better path; drafting Mathieu in Round 4 or 5 could ultimately pay positive dividends for both team and player.
DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois
Though the Bengals have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, thanks to defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Geno Smith, that doesn't mean they should avoid bringing on some youth and depth at the pass-rushing defensive end position.
The middle rounds should be especially fruitful for the Bengals if they want to fortify their front seven for the long term.
A perfect option would be Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan. Buchanan needs development—he was rather inconsistent in 2012, with 57 tackles, 4.5 sacks (down from 7.5 in 2011), one interception and a forced fumble—but as long as he sits behind current Bengals starters for a season or two, he could be developed into at least a dangerous situational pass-rusher.
Buchanan has speed and athletic skills; he just needs to tighten his pass-rush game and put on a little more weight. A season learning the NFL ropes and contributing on special teams wouldn't be so bad for either him or the Bengals, if they choose to make a move for him in Round 5.
CB B.W. Webb, William & Mary
The Bengals aren't presently hurting for cornerbacks, even with Terence Newman's new contract still in limbo.
What they do lack, however, are young corners worth developing in the long term, which is a need that B.W. Webb certainly meets—if the Bengals aren't sold on Mathieu or if Mathieu gets drafted out from under them.
Webb is a bit undersized but put on strong performances at both the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine, which has his stock a bit on the rise. He had 46 tackles in 2012, along with eight passes defensed and a forced fumble as well as a punt return for a touchdown.
His return skills could put Webb on the Bengals' radar for the short term, and his potential for development also makes him a worthwhile mid-round pickup who could make an impact down the line.