The NFL draft is 29 days away, and the Cincinnati Bengals have veterans at almost every position. Some were critical of Cincinnati’s handling of this free agency, but their current situation allows them to choose the best players available in the draft rather than choosing based on necessity.
The Bengals need added depth at the running back, linebacker and safety positions. Look for them to address these positions first during the draft.
Of course, that is considering they agree to terms with tackle Andre Smith. If Smith can’t be brought back, then offensive tackle would likely join the mix for one of the first three picks.
With many roster spots filled from free agency and the majority of core members locked into active contracts, the Bengals will look to find the appropriate young complements via the draft to join the roster and hopefully get them over the hump.
In order to do so, here’s a look at what I think their draft will look like.
Note: This is considering they use all 10 picks and don’t trade any away.
There is no consensus on which position the Bengals will choose with their first pick. In fact, the team has a poll on their website asking that very question. Some analysts believe the Bengals will pick a defensive player first; likely a safety or linebacker. Others anticipate an offensive player being the first pick; likely a running back or tackle (NFL.com).
Ultimately, the need for a safety outweighs the need for any other position. The signing of Dennis Roland adds security to the offensive line. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2012 so finding a running back isn’t critical, either. Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Aaron Maybin bring experience to the linebacking corps so Cincinnati can hold off on this position at No. 1.
At safety, Nate Clements and Chris Crocker are both free agents. Reggie Nelson returns but he is the only rostered player with significant playing experience at the position. Last season, Clements was converted from a cornerback to help with the position. They hope they don't have to do that again in Cincinnati.
With the 21st pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select Matt Elam, safety from Florida. While Elam has been criticized for his tendency to leave his feet in search of the big play, his motor and energy on the field have quickly dissolved any skepticism (NFL.com).
Elam would contribute to the defensive secondary immediately, providing an added dimension to the Bengals sixth-ranked defense.
After focusing on the defensive secondary with their first pick, the Bengals will look to bring in some offensive firepower with their second. Running back is the most critical offensive position as they look for a speed back to complement Green-Ellis out of the backfield.
This year’s running back class is in jeopardy of not having anyone taken in the first round. Because of this, the Bengals could potentially get the best running back available with the 37th pick. Chances are Eddie Lacy is gone before 37 though, and the Bengals settle for second fiddle.
Fitting that role perfectly is North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. His versatility rushing and receiving out of the backfield, combined with his quickness and ability to cut back make him a perfect partner to the Green-Ellis bruiser style attack.
Bernard is entering the draft early after accumulating almost 2,500 yards rushing in just two seasons.
With the 53rd pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Khaseem Greene, linebacker from Rutgers. Greene’s experience playing safety earlier in his career puts him at an advantage in passing situations. As a rusher, Greene has excelled as well, collecting 5.5 sacks for the Scarlet Knights last season.
The Bengals recently re-signed linebacker Rey Maualuga after he tested out the free agent market. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is expected to move Vontaze Burfict to inside linebacker from his position as WILL in 2012 (Bengals.com).
The Bengals also signed former first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin from the Jets. Don’t be surprised if the starting linebackers for Game 1 are Burfict at MIKE, Maybin at SAM and Khaseem Greene at WILL.
With the 84th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback from Connecticut. Although the Bengals just signed cornerback Adam Jones to a three-year deal, the Bengals could use some depth at cornerback.
Leon Hall has been a solid contributor since he was drafted, but Terence Newman remains a free agent and Dre Kirkpatrick is still unproven.
Wreh-Wilson (pronounced BLEED-ee RAY Wilson) brings the size and athleticism to not only contribute to the defensive secondary but to special teams as well.
His size and range make him a versatile mid-round target for this year’s draft. His size creates mismatches with receivers outside and allows for him to compete for jump balls, although he’s lost a few.
Don’t expect for Wreh-Wilson to step in and contribute immediately on defense. He needs to work on his technique, specifically in recovery situations, but his upside is worth gambling on.
With the 118th pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Ricky Wagner, offensive tackle from Wisconsin. Wisconsin has routinely had one of the best offensive lines in college football; an offensive line that’s helped them to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. Wagner has been a contributing tackle for all three of those appearances.
Wagner excels in the run game and has flashes of brilliance in the pass game as well. With Dennis Roland back under contract, the Bengals now know that at least some experience will return at the offensive tackle position should Andre Smith not re-sign.
Another added bonus is that Wagner has played tackle for right-handed quarterbacks (Russell Wilson, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips) and running back Montee Ball the last two years. The Bengals are looking to bring in a versatile back like Ball, possibly Ball himself, and having a tackle familiar with that sort of offensive scheme can only help.
With the 156th pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select Nico Johnson, linebacker from Alabama. Johnson, inside linebacker for the National Champion Crimson Tide, is a known run stopper.
Johnson specializes in taking on blockers and rushers between the tackles although his athleticism doesn’t jump off the page (NFL.com).
As stated, the Bengals are likely to move Vontaze Burfict to middle linebacker in 2013. Although he played the majority of the plays in 2012 and may not need one, Johnson would make a fantastic backup to Burfict.
Johnson would also bring added security should Burfict not succeed at the position. Johnson would also be asked to contribute on special teams as well.
It’s unlikely that Johnson would be expected to start at middle linebacker immediately; however, his experience at Alabama has prepared him well for high-pressure, high-profile situations.
With the 190th pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select T.J. McDonald, safety from Southern California. Again, the need for a safety is more critical than the need for any other position given the fact that Clements and Crocker are both free agents unlikely to re-sign and the other safeties on the roster, minus Reggie Nelson, are completely unproven.
With 10 draft picks and a good chunk of cap space still remaining, don’t be surprised if the Bengals draft more than one safety.
This could also be a pick that the Bengals use as trade bait for other prospects on draft day. With 10 potential picks, it’s very possible that the Bengals will trade away some of those picks before they’re on the clock.
The Bengals have already taken a gamble on a similar USC safety in Taylor Mays. Mays hasn't panned out to be the player he was once expected to be.
McDonald draws many similarities to Mays and realistically could beat him out for a spot. McDonald's size range, and willingness to play within the box make him a unique blend of talent and potential.
With the 197th pick, the Bengals select Spencer Ware, running back from LSU. The Bengals will have drafted a running back by this point bringing their total to three: Green-Ellis, Peerman and their first pick. Ware would be the fourth back, one able to step in for Green-Ellis should he need a rest or sustain an injury.
Additionally, Ware is from Cincinnati. A product of Princeton High School, Ware played quarterback for Princeton for four years before joining the Bayou Bengals.
At 5’11, 228 pounds, Ware has the ability to pound the ball between the tackles and take on the trenches. Ware is also an added resource in the blocking game, as many of the running backs likely to be taken by the Bengals in the first or second round have been criticized for their blocking abilities; mostly because the higher-rated backs are smaller, speedier guys.
Ware will be performing today at the LSU Pro Day. This pick is courtesy of New England from the Chad Johnson trade.
With the 240th pick, the Cincinnati Bengals select Trevardo Williams, defensive end from UConn. The defensive line needs the least improvement from 2012. Compiling 43 of the team’s 51 total sacks, the defensive line anchored the Bengals’ sixth-ranked defense.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins led the team, and all other interior linemen in the NFL, in sacks with 12.5. On the outside, Michael Johnson finished in second with 11.5, enough to earn him the franchise tag in 2013.
Bringing in another defensive lineman would be accepting a work in progress; which is often the case with late-round picks. The Bengals have already said that they are looking to save money from this year to offer extensions to key players in 2014, including defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
Bringing in a player like Williams with top-notch speed and tremendous upside would also serve as a security blanket for the defensive end position should Dunlap not re-sign in 2014.
With their final pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals will select a running back, wide receiver, linebacker or defensive back who can immediately contribute to special teams and fight for a roster spot; similar to a Cedric Peerman or Jeromy Miles.
It's hard to predict which players will pan out, but if the Bengals can find a late-round pick, or even a rookie free agent, that turns out half as good as Vontaze Burfict did last year, they're in good shape.
With both Brandon Tate and Adam Jones back under contract, there isn't a need for strictly another return man. I'd expect a player who can play gunner on punt team and cover on the kickoff team to be chosen. Possibly a bigger guy with expertise in blocking kicks but more likely a smaller, faster guy.
Don't be surprised if the Bengals take a gamble on former Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu with this pick. Mathieu's performance at the Combine certainly raised some eyebrows but his well-documented off the field issues carry red flags of their own.
Bengals owner Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis have been known for taking risks on players with troubled pasts and, given the potential upside, if he hasn't been taken, the Bengals will take him off the board.
Obviously, the draft is still weeks away. With free agency in full swing, Pro Days happening every day and new Adam Schefter tweets everyday, so many things can, and will, change between now and draft day.
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