The NFL draft is less than three weeks from today. Over the course of the next 20 days, teams all over the country will look to solidify their draft-day strategies.
The Cincinnati Bengals have 10 picks in this year’s draft. They have followed a unique plan that seems to be working so far and, as a result, the only positions that absolutely must be addressed via the draft are running back, safety and maybe right tackle, depending on whether Andre Smith re-signs.
According to NFL.com's Mock Draft Central and the mock-draft compilation of the NFL Network’s many analysts, only two of eight analysts with predictions beyond the 10th pick, predicted the Bengals to choose the same player with the first pick. That player was Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson, who probably won’t even be considered if Smith re-signs.
Here is a look at six draft prospects who would be a great fit in Cincinnati and could realistically end up being available to the Bengals.
Kiper has Ogletree ranked the No. 2 inside linebacker of the class behind Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.
The Bengals will be moving Vontaze Burfict to middle linebacker, meaning that Ogletree would likely have to move outside to get playing time. That shouldn't be a problem with Ogletree's athleticism and natural play-making abilities.
What will prohibit Ogletree from landing with the Bengals is that so many teams ahead of them need a linebacker as well. Both, the Giants and Bears, pick right before the Bengals at No. 21 and some predictions have them taking Ogletree.
With Ogletree’s experience at playing safety earlier in his college career, don’t be surprised if multiple teams have plans to move him outside and use his pass coverage abilities more (NFL.com).
The Bengals will look to pick the best player available with their first pick and its very likely that Ogletree could be that guy.
Giovanni Bernard has turned heads from when former Bengals running back coach Jim Anderson attended the Senior Bowl until his visit to Cincinnati on Tuesday night.
On NFL.com Bernard has the highest rating of any other running back, even though it’s widely considered that Alabama’s Eddie Lacy will be the first running back taken.
Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals beat writer Joe Reedy reported that Bernard had dinner with team officials Tuesday night.
Bernard rushed for 2,481 yards in just two years at Chapel Hill and had another 852 yards in receptions. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as find seams and burst into the second level, make him a perfect complement to Benjarvus Green-Ellis.
The earliest Bernard will come off the board is in the second round, but he could fall as low as the third round. If he is still available when the Bengals are on the clock for the 53rd pick, don’t be surprised if he’s taken there.
If Andre Smith does not re-sign with Cincinnati, head coach Marvin Lewis will be forced to prioritize the tackle position.
This year’s draft class is loaded with talented offensive tackles so by the time the Bengals get their first pick at 21, as many as four tackles could be off the board already.
Florida State tackle Menelik Watson could likely be the best tackle available at that time. At 6’5” 310 pounds, it’s hard to believe that Watson's size is overshadowed by his athleticism, but it’s true.
Coming from England, Watson’s first sport was soccer. He went on to play basketball and even box before finding football at Florida State (NFL.com).
The 25-year-old Watson’s unconventional path to the NFL had resulted in him being older than other top prospects. He is also relatively new to football and so drafting him would be knowingly undertaking a project. Nevertheless, Watson's range and athleticism would be a nice replacement for Andre Smith if he is not with the team next season.
Watson would compete with Dennis Roland for the position, assuring a quality product at right tackle on Sundays.
Possibly the Bengals’ biggest priority from the draft is leaving with a safety.
Both Nate Clements and Chris Crocker are free agents who are unlikely to be re-signed, creating an opening at the safety position opposite Reggie Nelson, who performed well last year with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Bengals’ rushing defense finished the season ranked 12th in yardage. Adding a player like Florida safety Matt Elam will provide the boost the Bengals need to crack the top-10.
Elam is known for his jarring hits to a fault at times as he has been criticized for over-pursuing occasionally in search of a big hit.
Elam’s performance at the combine affirmed that he is a top safety this year; especially with his his 4.54 time in the 40-yard dash. The Bengals have already visited with Texas safety Kenny Vacarro, but he could be off the board at No. 21 where the Bengals may bite on Elam.
Bengals.com recently released a mock draft where the Bengals would select tight end Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame with their first pick.
That is not to discredit the accomplishments of Jermaine Gresham. but would be a push to create a tight end duo similar to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England (Bengals.com).
ESPN NFL Analyst Mel Kiper has Eifert ranked No. 1 among tight ends in this year’s class and other rankings agree (ESPN INsider). At 6’5” 250 pounds, Eifert had a 35-inch vertical and ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the combine, showing why he’s so highly regarded.
Eifert caught 50 catches for 685 yards and four TDs last year at Notre Dame. His outstanding ball skills and route-running would certainly add another dimension to the Bengals’ growing offense.
Eifert could even contend with Gresham for the starting role and could contribute on special teams.
If Andre Smith doesn’t re-sign with the Bengals, they could be forced into a situation where they don’t pick a linebacker until the third round with possibly Menelik Watson, Matt Elam and a running back are the first three picks.
That would force the Bengals to wait until well into Day 2 to pick up a linebacker, such as Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter.
After playing alongside Von Miller, Porter used his junior season to make his own mark by accumulating 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Porter added 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and an interception in his senior season, but his role was changed to utilize him more in pass coverage. At the combine, he was a top performer in the vertical jump.
Porter wouldn’t be expected to step in and start right away, although that would not be out of the question. If Porter needs time to develop, there are other players around him to help with that process.
It will most likely require Smith not re-signing with the Bengals for them to wait until the third round for a linebacker, but whether they do or not, look for Porter’s name when the time comes.
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