However, as more and more names were added to the injury list, it became clear that some spots would benefit from another set of hands.
One such position is cornerback.
Injuries to Leon Hall and Terence Newman forced Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones into starting roles this year, and both performed admirably. But behind them, the Bengals had only Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris to back them up.
Terence Newman will be 36 at the start of the 2014 season and entering the second season of his two-year deal. He’s been a consistent member of the Bengals secondary, but his age and injury concerns make it unlikely that he’ll see another contract.
Leon Hall is coming back from a second torn Achilles, this time to the other leg. He came back successfully from the first one, but will he be able to do it again?
These questions will force the Bengals to either take a cornerback in the 2014 NFL draft or bring in a veteran free agent. So which should they go for? Let’s take a look…
If the Bengals want to take a cornerback in the draft, Bradley Roby could be their guy.
He’s elected to skip his senior season at Ohio State and head to the NFL. Roby is the most talented player in the Buckeyes secondary and should go in the first round despite an erratic season.
Missing the Orange Bowl through injury saw Roby miss a good opportunity to improve his draft stock. Barring any offseason heroics, his inconsistencies will make him available when the Bengals pick at the bottom of the first round.
CincyJungle thinks he could be a good addition to the Bengals defense:
Though he is 5'11 and 192 pounds, Roby is the latest in a long line of Buckeyes corners that are willing tacklers. The junior had 68 tackles to go along with three interceptions and 13 total passes defensed. He had two interceptions and 16 passes defensed as a sophomore. The pick makes sense given the thinness at the position right now.
At only 5’10” Jason Verrett isn’t the tallest cornerback on offer in 2014, but he is one of the best. He’s likely to be the third one drafted and will go in the first round.
Verrett played much of the 2013 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and yet he still managed to win the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and be named a first team All-American.
His finest moment this year came against Baylor when he held the Big 12’s best receiver, Antwan Goodley, to just one 12-yard reception (Goodley averaged 119 yards per game and 20 yards per catch up to then).
Bleacher Report’s Rob Goldberg has Verrett going to Cincy in his latest mock draft:
The Bengals have one of the more complete rosters in the NFL, but injuries showed that they lacked depth at cornerback. This immediately makes the position one of the bigger needs in the draft. Jason Verrett would be the next best available CB [After Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert]. He has good speed and instincts to cover receivers either on the outside or in the slot.
Another potential first-round pick for the Bengals comes in the form of Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State.
Like intangibles? Gilbert has them. At 6’0” and 200 pounds, Gilbert is an NFL-sized corner.
Here’s what Football Outsiders has to say about him:
He consistently shuts receivers down when he plays back in man coverage, and he’s very good at positioning himself to get interceptions. Perhaps the area where he is most effective is in the end zone where he’s able to box receivers out and use his physicality and jumping ability to prevent them from making touchdown catches. He’s a liability when he plays up in press coverage, as he doesn’t usually get a good jump off the ball and tends to let receivers get past him. Relative to other cornerbacks, he doesn’t have the greatest on-field speed either, and he can have a hard time catching up to those receivers.
In 2013 he had six interceptions, running two back for touchdowns. He also recorded 40 tackles and broke up seven passes. On special teams, he averaged 27 yards per kick return and ran one back for a TD.
If you’re more inclined to think the Bengals will draft Michael Johnson’s replacement in the first round, here’s a corner they could grab on Day 2.
Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner was one of the defensive stars of the Seminoles’ 2014 title run, but he could face difficulty at the next level.
At 5’8”, Joyner makes Giovani Bernard look like a giant. However, the folks over at NFLMocks.com don’t think his size will hold him back:
Size, size, size. That’s all scouts could talk about with Lamarcus Joyner. Anybody who watched the height challenged defensive back in the championship game realized he is a baller with a very good head on his shoulders. Joyner always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, making key tackles and recovering potentially disastrous fumbles.
The Bengals could be on the lookout for someone to play in the nickel slot and even take some snaps at safety. If that’s the case, Joyner could fit the bill in the second round.
There are a handful of good cornerbacks on the free-agent market this offseason. Knowing Cincinnati, none of them will still be available when the Bengals decide they need to make a move.
Regardless, there are some big names available. Some would be more realistic than others, but here’s just a few: Brent Grimes, Vontae Davis, Captain Munnerlyn, Sam Shields, Alterraun Verner, DeAngelo Hall and Charles Tillman.
Given the success of Terence Newman and the prior success of Nate Clements, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bengals take a 30-plus-year-old corner, especially if Mike Zimmer’s still around.
Last year the Bengals brought Stanford Routt and Aaron Ross in for workouts. Both are available once again, but neither have done anything of note in the last 12 months.