With each day that we draw closer to the NFL draft, the din of rumors, speculation and, of course, predictions grows louder and louder. Information is scattered around all corners of the media, and things just seem to start making less and less sense.
That's why we're here to help. The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the more complete overall rosters coming into this year's NFL draft, but it doesn't make their decisions any easier or carry less weight than other teams in the league.
If you want the latest updates on who the Bengals may be considering and the major storylines surrounding the team as the draft approaches, consider this your one-stop shop. Until the draft begins, this will be updated with everything you need to know about the Bengals' pre-draft process.
RB Gio Bernard is firmly on Cincy's draft radar.
April 22: Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt reports the Bengals worked out Ohio State offensive tackle Reid Fragel today.
April 22: ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien is having a private workout for Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer today.
April 21: In his latest mock draft, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy has the Bengals taking LSU safety Eric Reid at 21st-overall.
April 20: So much for those halted talks—the Bengals and free agent linebacker James Harrison came to an agreement on a two-year deal, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
April 16: For now, it appears the contract negotiations between the Cincinnati Bengals and free agent linebacker James Harrison have ground to a halt. The sticking point is likely money, so no final decision will likely come until after the draft, which puts linebacking depth fully in play for the Bengals with at least one of their picks.
April 16: The Bengals hosted 31 draft hopefuls on Tuesday whose high school and/or college careers took place in the Cincinnati area; all teams are permitted to do so, with the local pro days not counting against their limit of 30 pre-draft interviews.
April 15: CBS Sports' Pat Kirwan spoke with Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall on Monday, who confirmed that former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu is again meeting with the team. He also had a punt return session with the Bengals last month.
April 12: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Bengals have brought back free agent running back Bernard Scott, giving him a one-year deal. Despite the signing, expect the Bengals to still add another back in the draft.
April 11: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer is reporting that Florida safety Matt Elam will meet with the Bengals on Thursday.
April 9: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Bengals have met with or have visits lined up for later this week with Florida safety Matt Elam, LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. The team also attended the Tuesday workout for California wide receiver Keenan Allen.
April 9: Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin will be visiting the Bengals this week.
April 3: Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Bengals will host North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, along with Ohio State offensive tackle Reid Fragel.
March 22: Anthony Cosenza at Cincy Jungle presented a tweet by former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu that said he had a punt return session with the Bengals
Matt Elam could be in the Bengals' first-round sights.
The Cincinnati Bengals are poised to be a "rich get richer" team in 2013, with 10 total picks in this year's draft. They have their full complement of picks in all seven rounds, along with an early second-round pick, thanks to trading Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders, and a sixth-round pick from the New England Patriots from the Chad Ochocinco trade.
Though the Bengals gave up their original seventh-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers when they traded for safety Taylor Mays, they added two seventh-round compensatory picks.
Here is my latest Bengals mock draft (updated April 15).
Round 1, Pick 21: S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
Round 2, Pick 5 (37 overall, from Oakland Raiders): RB Giovanni Bernard, North Carolina
Round 2, Pick 23 (53 overall): LB Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Round 3, Pick 22 (84 overall): CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
Round 4, Pick 21 (118 overall): DE Sam Montgomery, LSU
Round 5, Pick 23 (156 overall): OT Reid Fragel, Ohio State
Round 6, Pick 22 (190 overal): Athlete Denard Robinson, Michigan
Round 6, Pick 29 (197 overall, from New England): DT Joe Vellano, Maryland
Round 7, Pick 34 (240 overall, compensatory): WR Keenan Davis, Iowa
Round 7, Pick 45 (251 overall, compensatory): OT Jeff Braun, West Virginia
Depending on what happens with free-agent right tackle Andre Smith, the Bengals may choose to try to get one of the draft's better tackles in the first round. However, the re-signing of Dennis Roland and the presence of Anthony Collins actually puts them in decent shape at the position even if Smith doesn't stick around.
The Bengals could trade up in Round 1 depending on what happens with Andre Smith.
The Bengals don't appear poised to trade any of their players or picks for those of another team. However, it's not inconceivable to think that they do so on the day of the draft if they want to move up for either a premiere offensive tackle or if they would prefer safety Kenny Vaccaro to Matt Elam or their other options.
There are a number of positions that the Bengals are almost certain to address in this year's draft—safety, linebacker and running back.
With the latter job, the Bengals need to find someone shifty and fast to pair with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he also needs to make a major impact. Ideally, the Bengals would field a pair of backs with separate skill sets but equivalent effectiveness, so who they choose in the draft must be ready to contribute heavily in his rookie season.
Though there is an outside chance the Bengals could use their first-round pick to nab running back Eddie Lacy, the odds are higher that they take a running back a little later on—perhaps with one of their two second-round picks or in the third. Lacy could still be in play, considering the Bengals have the fifth overall pick in the second round, and if he's still on the board they could take him.
Otherwise, their interest appears to lie in North Carolina's Giovani Bernard, whom they already had in for a visit, or perhaps they could go after Clemson's Andre Ellington or UCLA's Johnathan Franklin. Texas A&M's Christine Michael could be a third-round steal for Cincinnati if he hasn't already been selected by then.
Bernard is WalterFootball.com's second-ranked running back in this year's draft. He had 1,228 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in 2012, as well as 490 receiving yards and five more scores. He'd certainly add another dimension to the Bengals offense.
Though teams generally like to throw rivals off their track as part of the pre-draft visit process, the Bengals haven't had many players in yet, and all of them seem to be ones they'd like to actually take, Bernard included. He'd be a great early second-round option if he's not stolen out from under them.
The Cincinnati Bengals need to add a strong safety to start alongside Reggie Nelson. Last year, they rotated Chris Crocker, Jeromy Miles, Taylor Mays and Nate Clements, which was not an ideal scenario. It's the one position where the Bengals lack stability which means they'll be prioritizing it in this year's draft.
In an ideal world, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro would still be on the board when the Bengals select 21st-overall in the first round. However, the Bengals aren't the only team in need of a starting safety—the Dallas Cowboys, who pick 18th, could certainly use him, though it's also not the only position they could be closely examining in the first round.
If, however, the Cowboys or anyone else does not take Vaccaro by the time the Bengals make their selection, it's a no-brainer that they use the pick on him. But they cannot simply be locked into Vaccaro and assume he'll be there. They need other plans in place to prepare them for practically anything.
Should Vaccaro already be claimed, the Bengals could still use their first-round pick on a safety. Florida's Matt Elam is certainly in the mix, especially considering that his skill set and height issues (he's 5'10") would make him better-suited for a strong safety job rather than free safety. He's a hard hitter, great against the run and though he had just two sacks in his 2012 season certainly has the speed and instincts to rush the passer and play on the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals could also skip over Elam in Round 1, should he still be available, and head straight for Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien. Cyprien is an athletic, hard-hitting safety like Elam but has the coverage skills to run with tight ends and receivers, giving him an edge over Elam. Also, Elam's hard-hitting ways often border on the reckless, which could make him a target for penalties, fines and suspensions.
If the Bengals feel like gambling, they could also put off safety until their first of two second-round picks—the 37th-overall selection which they received in trade for quarterback Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders. Cyprien could very well still be on the board at that time depending on what the Baltimore Ravens do at 32nd-overall (they also are in the market for a starting strong safety).
However, the Bengals shouldn't push the position any further back than that early second-round pick if they want to have a greater chance of that player becoming a rookie-year starter. The last thing the Bengals need is to yet again rotate a handful of strong safeties if they want to have a cohesive, consistent secondary.
The Cincinnati Bengals have yet to come to terms with free agent right tackle Andre Smith, though the draft is now mere days away. Though Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis considers Smith a major priority—he wants to get the deal done prior to the start of the draft on Thursday—what Lewis (and likely, also Smith) wants and what actually happens may not line up in time.
So does it change the Bengals' draft strategy if Smith doesn't get a new deal by Thursday? Not really.
While Smith was Pro Football Focus' top-rated right tackle for 2012 and their fourth-overall ranked tackle (subscription required), the Bengals won't be in particularly bad shape if they cannot re-sign him before the draft. Nor does it mean they need to draft his replacement in the first round rather than fill their hole at strong safety as they are anticipated to do.
Without Smith, the Bengals still have two starting-capable right tackles—Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland. If they cannot get a deal with Smith, one of these two men will start at the position in 2013. While a lack of a contract for Smith might mean the Bengals take another offensive lineman later on in the draft to help their depth, they don't seem to be forced into the situation where they must address it early.
Even if the Bengals cannot get a long-term deal worked out with Smith prior to Thursday evening, they could still do so after the draft. Either way, the fact that he hasn't yet been re-signed doesn't alter the Bengals' draft-day plans, even if he remains a free agent come the start of Round 1 on Thursday night.