Matt Elam could turn out to be the Bengals' first-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
There has been plenty of ongoing debate about which position the Cincinnati Bengals should target in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. The Bengals will surely take the best player available on their draft board at that point, but nobody outside the front office knows exactly how that board looks right now.
That leaves the rest of us to speculate upon which position is most captivating to the Bengals as their greatest need. This year, the safety, linebacker, running back, defensive end, offensive line and wide receiver positions can all be considered needs.
Why should the Bengals choose to draft a safety with their first-round selection over the other choices?
Let's break down each position of need and the players who may or may not be available to decipher the best course of action for Cincinnati to take on April 25.
The four receivers in this year's draft who have true first-round grades are Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins and California's Keenan Allen. Even if the Bengals were thinking about a wide receiver in the first round, they will look the other way due to value.
There are several teams that are very needy at the wide receiver position early in the draft. This could mean that there can be a run on receivers early. The Bengals have not been a team to reach for a player in the Marvin Lewis era.
The Bengals staff have made it well-known that they do intend to take a running back in the draft this year. However, it seems very unlikely that a first-round pick would be spent on one. There may not even be a running back with a true first-round grade this year.
Alabama's Eddie Lacy seems to be the consensus top back in the draft, but he is projected anywhere from the late first round into the early second round. There is no use for the Bengals to spend such a high pick on a player who will be in a timeshare in the backfield.
Look for Cincinnati to find a running back around the third or fourth round of the draft this year. The prospects are very good, and the positional group is very deep.
There are other necessities to fill before the Bengals start to draft complementary players this year.
Cincinnati applied the franchise tag to Michael Johnson this offseason and also re-signed defensive ends Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers. The Bengals will also look to extend Carlos Dunlap's contract before next offseason.
This has left the Bengals very wealthy at the defensive end position right now. There is always room to pick up more pass-rushers, but there is no urgency to reach for one in the first round.
Most of the elite prospects at this position will be top-10 selections. Others who still have first-round talent will be swallowed up by teams with urgent need at the position such as the New York Giants.
This is a position that the Bengals should fully expect to take, however, not until the mid-rounds of the draft.
One glaring need for the Bengals right now is the right tackle position. With Andre Smith still on the market, the Bengals have a very large hole to fill.
The recent contract of Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots should put a market value on the position, which will help move things along between these two parties. The Bengals most definitely want to get a deal done very soon, and this is just the thing that needed to happen.
Even if Cincinnati were not to re-sign Smith before the draft, it is uncertain if the Bengals would look at a right tackle that high. The better prospects will be off the board already, (Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson) which would make Alabama's D.J. Fluker the next choice.
Fluker is a nice prospect, but he may be a slight reach at 21st overall. The Bengals may want to trade back as they did last year to acquire Kevin Zeitler if they were to go in this direction.
Still, with other glaring needs present for this team, they could get better value by selecting a different position and filling this hole later in the draft.
This is a position that has had plenty of interest from Bengals fans throughout the offseason. Key prospects who may be available at this position are Kansas State's Arthur Brown and Georgia's Alec Ogletree.
Both of these players are great candidates for the Bengals at the outside linebacker position and would certainly provide an immediate upgrade.
It appears that the Bengals will have a glaring hole here when the draft arrives; however, they will be able to fill that hole in the early second round with the 37th overall selection.
It is difficult to predict, but based upon team needs of the teams drafting behind the Bengals 21st overall selection, one or both of these linebackers could easily slip into the second round of the draft.
Teams selecting behind Cincinnati have glaring needs for pass-rushers, wide receivers, cornerbacks and safeties. A linebacker could certainly slip right through the cracks and allow the Bengals to cash in on significant value by adding an immediate starter with an early second-round selection.
So, why should the Bengals allow the linebacker position to slip to the second round rather than the safety position? Let's get to that right now.
There are three safeties in this year's draft class with legitimate first-round grades. They are Kenny Vaccaro of Texas, Matt Elam of Florida and Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International.
These three safeties will not make it out of the first round.
Vaccaro will be the first to go. Most likely he will go early to a team with a great need at safety such as the St. Louis Rams, Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers. Each of these teams select before the Bengals at 21 overall.
This leaves Cincinnati with the second-best overall safety and best, true strong safety Matt Elam.
Elam will be able to come in and immediately start alongside of Reggie Nelson and provide instant impact. He is a great leader, runs with great fluidity, allowing him to go sideline to sideline, is not afraid to help in run support and can cover in the nickel corner position in a pinch. He is also one of the hardest hitting players in the 2013 draft.
If the Bengals were to pass on this talent and also that of Cyprien in the first round, they would not get another chance to select either player.
Too many teams have a huge need at the safety position in the last third of the draft this year. The Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens all pick behind the Bengals in the first round. Each of those teams can use a safety badly.
After the three safeties in the first round, there is a significant drop-off in talent and readiness to start.
Which position should the Bengals select first in the 2013 NFL Draft?
Players like Eric Reid of LSU will be available in the second round; however, he possesses many of the same qualities as current Bengals safety Taylor Mays. Reid is an extremely hard hitter, but he lacks control on the field. He is also stiff in coverage and has a tendency to miss his spots on deep balls.
Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, T.J. McDonald and D.J. Swearinger will be available anywhere from the late-second to fourth rounds. However, they are all project players.
The Bengals have dealt with projects at the safety position enough recently and can use someone who can come in and start instantly.
If the opportunity to take a safety in Round 1 is missed, the Bengals will be looking at yet another repeat of the 2012 season at that position next season and for the foreseeable future.
All specific prospect information can be found at CBSSports.com.