The NFL draft is only days away and the Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in good shape to acquire young talent. Cincinnati had a different approach to this offseason choosing to be less active on the free-agent market and more focused on retaining key players.
Now that they have successfully done that (with the exception of Andre Smith), focus shifts to the NFL draft. Head coach Marvin Lewis and owner/general manager Mike Brown have almost set themselves up to draft the best available player with their first pick, No. 21. By re-signing players like Michael Johnson, Terence Newman and Rey Maualuga and acquiring James Harrison, the Bengals have earned the luxury of choosing from who is available rather than choosing based on team needs and weaknesses. Again, the exception being the right tackle position.
Whether or not Smith re-signs, according to head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals could still draft a tackle if he's the best player available. That theory will certainly be tested if Andre Smith doesn't re-sign because the top four or five tackles will likely be gone by the 21st pick causing the Bengals to either reach or wait.
"We're not going to reach and take a player we don't think is worthy of the value of the pick," Lewis told Bengals.com editor Geoff Hobson.
Now that most of the other moving parts have settled, here is how I see the first three rounds playing out in Cincinnati.
With the 21st pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select D.J. Fluker, offensive tackle from Alabama.
Having re-signed key players like Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, Adam Jones and Terrence Newman, the Cincinnati Bengals’ only remaining priority is the offensive tackle position. Last year’s starter Andre Smith is an unrestricted free agent and remains one of the highest profile unsigned free agents.
While the Bengals would like to re-sign Smith prior to the NFL draft which begins April 25, they have to face the possibility that his replacement will be a rookie. This year’s class is laden with talented offensive linemen.
Coach Marvin Lewis acknowledges that the other AFC North teams play a part in the draft-day strategy, "They've got to have some mass to them to be able to block the guys we have to block in our division" (Bengals.com).
The big factor here is how the Bengals have Fluker rated. They could determine that the fifth-best offensive tackle isn't worthy of the 21st pick and move on. They could also take him with the 21st pick and trust that the coaching staff can mold his physical attributes into productivity on the field. With his girth and experience, he's worth the risk.
With the 37th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Montee Ball, running back from Wisconsin.
Montee Ball leaves Wisconsin as one of the most decorated players in college football. Having scored a total of 79 touchdowns at Wisconsin, Ball owns the FBS record for career touchdowns scored. Ball was also a Heisman finalist in 2011 and was awarded the Doak Walker Award in 2012.
Ball hails from Wisconsin where offensive linemen seem to grow on trees and trips to Disneyland during Rose Bowl Week aren’t even a big deal anymore (they’ve gone to the last three). To say that Ball’s accomplishments in the running game are more a testament to his offensive line than himself would be a grave injustice. Ball is heralded for his durability, patience and quickness. Possibly his most outstanding attribute, however, is his balance—showcased throughout the video—but it’s even more astounding in person.
Ball possesses the versatility needed to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield. Ball’s willingness to run between the tackles, adeptness in the pass-blocking game and track record of receiving the ball out of the backfield all make him a great fit in Cincinnati. Chances are he won’t be expected to start immediately but he will certainly compete for the starting role.
With the 53rd pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Eric Reid, safety from LSU.
Waiting until the 53rd pick to take a safety could prove costly for the Bengals but since they will have already chosen two other players by that point, it could be a blessing as well. LSU safety Eric Reid rose to the spotlight during the 2011 season when he and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu anchored a stout LSU defensive secondary.
Reid led that 2011 LSU team in tackles with 76, adding two interceptions and two forced fumbles as well. In 2012, he amassed 91 tackles and two more interceptions. Having shown the ability to close down on defenders as well as play the ball in the air, Reid is the presence needed at safety for the Bengals.
At 6'1" and 213 pounds, Reid has the size and physical presence that the Bengals were missing with Nate Clements and Chris Crocker last year. Reid's size wasn't his only impressive feature, however. At the NFL combine, Reid was a top performer in three different categories. His 4.53-second 40-yard dash ranked fifth, his 40.5-inch vertical jump and 11'2" broad jump both tied for first among safeties.
Reid's athleticism is inevitable and having played safety for LSU for the last three years, he's used to the spotlight. Reid will likely be expected to start immediately in the Bengals defensive secondary but that shouldn't be a problem.
With the 84th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select Kiko Alonso, linebacker from Oregon.
Alonso racked up 74 tackles, a sack and four interceptions for the Ducks in 2012. Alonso overcame a troubled youth in Eugene where he battled injuries and his off-the-field, alcohol-encouraged activities raised red flags for some teams.
Nonetheless, Alonso's on-the-field activities are hard to overlook, especially in the run game. He's described as having "powerful hands" and being "fast enough to keep up with running backs on quick swings in the flats" (NFL.com).
He's earned some praise for his pass defense as well. NFL.com says that he has "good awareness when asked to drop into a variety of different coverage situations." He did reel in four interceptions in 2012. His most notable interception, however, came in one of his best performances.
In the 2012 Rose Bowl, Alonso earned MVP honors with his five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception off then-Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. Alonso would provide an interesting competition between he and current middle linebacker Rey Maualuga if he were to be drafted. Adding Alonso's size with the newly acquired James Harrison and a blossoming Vontaze Burfict would instantly upgrade the Bengals to one of the best pass rushes in the NFL.
Former Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict went undrafted after being a projected lottery pick. He was signed as a free agent in Cincinnati and finished the season second in tackles.
The Bengals have six remaining picks in the 2013 NFL draft due in part to draft picks acquired in the Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer trades. The Bengals were also awarded compensatory draft picks. With six picks in the last four rounds, Cincinnati has the opportunity to upgrade the roster significantly. The last four years, few teams have drafted better than the Bengals. If that continues, 2013 could be a big year in the Queen City.
The later rounds of the draft are pretty unpredictable. If last year's draft taught Bengals fans nothing else, it's that players like Vontaze Burfict can one day be a projected lottery pick, the next day go undrafted and end the year with 130-plus tackles. The Bengals have done a good job identifying value players.
Coach Marvin Lewis addressed being flexible in the scouting and draft process, "Like last year, they could end up at positions where they are not expected to step in and be starters right away. Or they could end up at spots where maybe they could come in right away and compete to be the starter" (Bengals.com).
Some of those value players could be the following:
Sean Porter, LB Texas A&M
Da'Rick Rogers, WR Tennessee Tech
Shamarko Thomas, S Syracuse
Reid Fragel, OT Ohio State
Corey Lemonier, LB Auburn
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB UConn
Tyrann Mathieu, DB LSU
Le'Veon Bell, RB Michigan State
Nico Johnson, LB Alabama
JC Tretter, OG Cornell
William Gholston, DE Michigan State
Ricky Wagner, OT Wisconsin