Cincinnati Bengals' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft
Whether it is a corner who plays in certain packages and on special teams, a defensive end who rotates in or an offensive tackle to upgrade the line, the Bengals sit in a position to add to what is already one of the NFL's stronger rosters.
The following slideshow will point out a few key areas of need for the Bengals, both right away and in the future. Then, it will list a few prospects who fit the team well.
There is quite a long way to go before the draft, but as of right now, these prospects are the best fit for the Bengals.
Offensive Tackle: Best Fit, Zack Martin
Offensive tackle sticks out as arguably the biggest need in Cincinnati this year, with the Bengals not in a good position to retain backup swing tackle Anthony Collins after his impressive performances at left tackle.
If Collins leaves, Notre Dame's Zack Martin makes a ton of sense in the first. Martin has a better chance of falling to the Bengals than the likes of Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson.
He is also a much better fit now, anyway. Martin projects as a left guard, which also happens to be a need in Cincinnati. As NFL Network's Mike Mayock illustrates, via NFL.com on Twitter, Martin has plenty of upside as a guard:
This would give the Bengals an upgrade over Clint Boling and also gives them long-term potential when Andrew Whitworth departs.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Cyrus Kouandjio is a nice fall-back plan for the Bengals in the first if offensive tackle turns out to be the plan, and the team has found success dipping into the Alabama well recently.
Kouandjio has mixed reviews that are causing him to fall at this point, but his physical traits are hard to deny and Cincinnati has a staff known for grooming young linemen into quality players.
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
If the Bengals choose to wait until the mid-rounds, Ohio State's Jack Mewhort is a sound option. As CBS Sports Dane Brugler illustrates, Mewhort is a starter at the next level:
OT Jack Mewhort is a much better NFL prospect than former Buckeyes OT Mike Adams IMO. Stout and tough. Plug and play type day one #NFLDraft— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 24, 2014
Cornerback: Best Fit, Jason Verrett
Like the offensive tackle position, the Cincinnati Bengals are not likely to land a top cornerback prospect such as Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert.
That said, TCU's Jason Verrett is not such a bad plan. He has good size at 5'10" and 176 pounds, but it is his film that will impress teams the most. Verrett is strong in coverage and would make Cincinnati fans proud with his Leon Hall-esque aggressiveness against the run.
Verrett would fit right in with the Bengals as he could contribute every now and then while taking the time to learn from veterans like Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones. In a few years, he may wind up the starter across from Dre Kirkpatrick.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Bradley Roby's consistent fall in his last collegiate season is a good thing for the Bengals so late in the first.
While there are some holes in Roby's game, he is an aggressive player who projects well in the type of system the Bengals run. He certainly needs some development time, which is exactly what he will get given the situation in Cincinnati.
Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
While certainly a raw prospect, Loucheiz Purifoy fits the mold Cincinnati looks for in bigger cornerbacks who can play on the line of scrimmage.
Purifoy will be there in the mid-rounds and brings with him an alarming amount of upside. For a team as talented as the Bengals, he represents a safe risk.
Defensive End: Best Fit, Kony Ealy
While quite a long shot, the Cincinnati Bengals may look to upgrade the defensive end position, despite the fact Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt and Wallace Gilberry are still on the roster.
The Bengals are probably better waiting until the late rounds to grab a rotational player, but the team cannot go wrong with the shocking upside of Kony Ealy if they choose to hit the spot in the first.
Ealy has thrust himself into the first-round conversation thanks to an impressive year and performances in the offseason activities that have impressed names such as Brugler:
As disruptive as he is as a rusher, Ealy is still developing as a run defender and needs to improve his awareness to better set the edge and shed to be consistent against the run. Although he doesn't have the same production as his teammate Michael Sam, Ealy is the more attractive NFL prospect because of the tools and he has first round ability for the 2014 class if he decides to skip his senior season. The secret is out.
Ealy, much like Hunt last year, would rotate in and perhaps even kick inside on passing downs to rush the passer before taking over as a potential starter in a few years.
Michael Sam, Missouri
Believe it or not, Missouri has two defensive ends worthy of going high in the draft, although Sam's stock has taken a bigger hit in recent months.
Sam is more likely destined for the third round, which fits well with how the draft may fall and the Bengals needs for a rotational piece, not a starter.
Will Clarke, West Virginia
Another outstanding option for the Bengals if they choose to wait until the mid-rounds to hit defensive end, Will Clarke will remind fans of Michael Johnson thanks to his frame at 6'7" and 273 pounds.
Clarke is rapidly on the rise, as Brugler illustrates:
WVU DE Will Clarke entered the week as my top defensive NFL prospect and he'll likely leave that way too. VG first step w/ that length— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 18, 2014
Like Johnson, Clarke has the potential to be a great player at the pro level; he just needs a few years of refinement to get to that point.
Linebacker: Best Fit, Ryan Shazier
Linebacker is a long shot for the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round, with two starter spots locked up by Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga.
The strong side has a limited use in the Cincinnati defense and has contenders for plenty of playing time in James Harrison, Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur.
That said, a player of Ryan Shazier's caliber may be difficult to pass up. As Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch points out, experts such as ESPN's Mel Kiper love how Shazier's game translates to the pro level:
ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper said Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier "played like a first rounder all season for the Buckeyes."— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) January 15, 2014
Shazier has a nose for the football and is stout against the run. Cincinnati would have a hard time taking Shazier off the field, which is nothing but a good thing. He would also make the coaching staff's decision at cut day much more difficult with only so many spots available for talented linebackers.
Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
There is no question Adrian Hubbard is a project at the next level. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks puts it best:
Although Hubbard has played outside linebacker in Alabama's 3-4 system, he isn't a dynamic pass rusher nor an explosive athlete in coverage. I've been surprised at his marginal first-step quickness and his lack of nuance with his pass-rush technique. Hubbard doesn't overwhelm blockers with outstanding speed and quickness. In addition, he also lacks the power to forklift opponents despite his exceptional length (6-6, 252 pounds).
Marvin Lewis loves his reclamation projects at linebacker and Hubbard can certainly be considered one in the third round or later. If the Bengals want to add upside at a position of depth, Hubbard may be the way to go.
Quarterback: Best Fit, Zach Mettenberger
As an extremely deep team, do not be shocked to see a second-round pick or later go toward a developmental player who will have an impact down the line, as they did in the second round with Margus Hunt in 2013.
Cincinnati simply will not find a replacement for Andy Dalton in the first round of the draft, as one has to be able to outperform him on the field right away with the team in the middle of a serious championship window.
Dalton has one year left on his contract to prove he is the answer under center, but that will not stop the Bengals from taking a prospect with major upside to groom.
The best possible player who fits this description is LSU's Zach Mettenberger, who tore his ACL near the end of the collegiate season. Mettenberger used to be widely hailed as a first-round pick, but as CBS Sports' Rob Rang details, he will likely fall into the second or third:
Mettenberger has enough quality tape that scouts won't necessarily need to see him compete at the Scouting Combine in February or during a Pro Day workout prior to May's draft to give him a high grade. NFL teams will want to see evidence that he's recovering from surgery to repair the torn ligament, however.
The concern will be whether Mettenberger will be able to participate in rookie mini camps and training camp prior to next season. If unable to do so, the team that drafts may be forced to give Mettenberger a "redshirt" rookie season in the NFL, as he'll have little time to develop the on-field rapport with his new teammates critical to taking over as a club's starting quarterback.
It does not matter that Metterberger may have to miss the entire season. In that span, he can learn the position at the pro level and eventually take over if need be. If not, he will represent an outstanding trade value that may land the Bengals a future first-round pick.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Easter Illinois
Garoppolo is still making a name for himself and may very well be off the board in the first round by the time the draft rolls around after he shattered all of Tony Romo's records at Eastern Illinois.
He has everything the NFL looks for in a franchise quarterback, with the only real question being how he would consistently perform against top-tier talent. So far, Garoppolo has done great and would be a stellar fit as a developmental player in Cincinnati.
David Fales, San Jose State
Fales is similar to Garoppolo in that he has much to prove to the pro level before he can be taken seriously as a high-end draft selection.
The physical tools are there, and what Fales lacks in arm strength, he makes up for with a strong ability to move through his reads and keep plays alive with his feet.