Last year, the Bengals addressed their secondary when they took CB Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round; will they look to the secondary again in 2013?
Heading into the 2013 NFL draft, the Cincinnati Bengals are in good shape. Yes, they have positions that need to be addressed via the draft—strong safety and running back chief among them—but as far as their roster holes, the Bengals are well off compared to most teams heading into this week's event.
The Bengals have the 21st overall selection in the first round. Here are five players that the Bengals may take in the first round and the pros and cons of Cincinnati taking them.
Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is the best safety prospect in the 2013 draft class, so it's not surprising that a safety-needy team like the Cincinnati Bengals has been linked to him for some time now.
Vaccaro had 92 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2012 and played very well both in coverage and against the run.
Vaccaro is versatile—he'd be just as comfortable as a free safety as a strong safety (the latter being the Bengals' greatest need) and his prowess both in coverage and against the run makes him the perfect complement to current Bengals starting free safety Reggie Nelson.
If Vaccaro is still on the board when the Bengals pick, they'd get in him the perfect confluence of need and best player available, which is exactly what a team idealizes for their first selection of the year.
The Bengals aren't the only safety-needy team in the draft. The Dallas Cowboys (18th overall) and St. Louis Rams (16th overall) also could use someone like Vaccaro, which makes the odds that he's still available when the Bengals pick 21st extremely slim.
Other than that, there are no drawbacks to Vaccaro's game; if Cincinnati lucks out and can pick him up, it'll be in great shape in the secondary.
First-round safeties don't start and end with Kenny Vaccaro, thankfully for the Bengals. If Vaccaro is already spoken for by the time they make their selection at 21st overall, they still have options at the position should they choose to address it in Round 1.
Florida's Matt Elam is one of those non-Vaccaro safeties they could be considering. Unlike Vaccaro, Elam projects to be a pure strong safety, which only further serves the Bengals' purposes. Elam had 76 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, nine pass breakups and a forced fumble in 2012.
Elam has great football instincts—he's able to get to the ball seemingly every time—combined with great tackling and hard hitting, all of which are excellent traits for a strong safety. His good speed allows him to keep up with receivers and tight ends, and he seems to have no trouble being lined up to bring pressure to opposing quarterbacks, either.
He should be ready to start from Week 1.
Elam's hard-hitting ways also come with a few drawbacks—namely, that he's viewed as reckless at times, which could be dangerous to his health, the health of those he's charged with covering or tackling and to his wallet.
At 5'10", he may be a little undersized to truly cover receivers and tight ends effectively; though he may be able to run with them, they may also be able to make catches over him even if he's being physical in his pursuit.
Safety, safety, safety: It's beginning to sound like a broken record, sure, but when it's the Bengals' position of greatest need and their 21st overall first-round draft positioning has them lined up to meet it, of course we're going to be looking at a number of safeties they could take with that pick.
The third in this series is Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien. Though he's a small-school prospect, his draft stock has been steadily on the rise thanks to a stellar 2012 season combined with a great Senior Bowl showing. He had 93 tackles in 2012, along with four interceptions, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Like Kenny Vaccaro, Cyprien is versatile. He's able to play free or strong safety, though he'd do the latter in Cincinnati. He's fast enough to run with tight ends and wide receivers and tackles extremely well. At 6'0", he's also tall enough to prevent catches, unlike the shorter Matt Elam.
Cyprien has much of Vaccaro's skill set but is less in-demand among the safety-needy teams that pick before the Bengals, making him likely available when they make their selection.
Cyprien doesn't have many deficiencies in his game. The only knock against him is that he played for a small school, which means he didn't see many NFL-caliber college offenses, so he might have to play a little on-field catch-up.
Also, it's hard to exactly pinpoint Cyprien's draft positioning—he could be taken anywhere from the middle of the first round to the top 10 of the second.
With the Bengals having a high second-round pick thanks to their trade of quarterback Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders, the Bengals may choose to sit and wait until that pick and hope Cyprien is still there. Honestly, taking him in the first and not having that trust he'll be available would be smarter if they're sold on him.
The Cincinnati Bengals need a running back to pair with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and they are thought to be prepared to do so within their first three picks (two of which come in the second round).
Though it's an outside chance, the Bengals could address it in Round 1 by taking Alabama's Eddie Lacy.
Lacy is the latest in a string of successful Crimson Tide running backs. He rushed for 1,322 yards on just 204 carries in 2012—a 6.5 yards-per-carry average—and had 17 rushing touchdowns, along with 22 catches for 189 yards and two more scores.
Lacy's 2012 production cannot be denied—the numbers are impressive, and they're enough to have him be many draftnik's top-rated running back.
He runs with power, like Green-Ellis, but he also has the added dimensions of speed and shiftiness, two qualities the Bengals need in their complement to the veteran.
Lacy has been criticized as benefiting from Alabama's great offensive line more than being an excellent running back in his own right, and his performance at his pro day only seem to solidify this criticism. His hamstring injury, which kept him from participating in the scouting combine, also left him out of shape for his official workout, which is troubling.
Though Lacy had a strong 2012 season, he's still quite raw when it comes to blocking, as well as catching passes. The Bengals need someone fast and elusive, to be sure, but someone more complete and with fewer conditioning issues should be available to them in the second round.
Though Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has said re-signing right tackle Andre Smith to a long-term deal is his biggest pre-draft priority, that doesn't mean it will get done in time.
If it doesn't, the Bengals could still give him a new contract after the draft. If the whole thing simply cannot happen, for whatever reason, the Bengals aren't in bad shape with Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland behind him.
However, they could choose to address right tackle in the first round to add depth and competition.
If they choose to go this route, then Alabama's D.J. Fluker should be on the Bengals' radar. Fluker is arguably the best right tackle in the draft, and he could very well be available when they pick 21st overall.
The Bengals need a boost to their run game. While that will likely come from adding a rookie to pair up with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a right tackle like Fluker could also be a huge help.
Fluker's best asset is his run-blocking, which has helped both Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy look like world-beaters.
If the Bengals need to move on from Smith, Fluker should be an easy plug-and-play when it comes to run-blocking.
As a pass protector, however, Fluker needs work. He repeatedly gave up multiple sacks in games in 2012, despite how quick and athletic he is.
That's not to say that he's one-note and can only run-block. However, Smith gave up just seven sacks on Andy Dalton in 2012 and Fluker, if he's taken to start, will likely give up more.
It seems a bit far-fetched that the Bengals take Fluker or any other right tackle in the first round; considering their desire to re-sign Smith and the depth already in place behind him, they might just add additional depth in a later round rather than search for a starter early on.