With the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in the books, the Cincinnati Bengals now have a better idea of how their big board should look with the 2014 draft on the horizon.
No. 24 overall pick in hand, the Bengals are in a position of luxury in what is a deep class at most positions thanks to strong performances at the podium the last few years.
Right now, the Cincinnati big board surely encompasses each position and prospect available. There is no reason for the Bengals to narrow the field just yet, if ever. Here is how the big board in Cincinnati should look at this juncture, based on a blend of need and overall value.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Look, if the Bengals are going to grab a quarterback in the first round, it is either going to be Teddy Bridgewater—who can start right away—or a developmental prospect who can sit for a year while Andy Dalton plays out the remainder of his contract (translation: Do not expect to see another signal-caller on this list for quite some time).
Bridgewater believes he is the best quarterback in the draft, as he told the media at the combine, via USA Today's Jim Corbett:
No doubt, I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft. I'm not going to just say that. I actually feel I can back up these words. I'm just confident in myself and my capability of doing all the things at this position and to go out there and prove that I'm the best guy.
Confident, cocky or whatever label fans want to slap on the statement, it does not change the fact Bridgewater is correct. The chances he falls to Cincinnati are astronomically low.
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
A late bloomer in terms of stock (the media is slow like that), Greg Robinson exploded at the combine. Despite coming in at 6'5" and 332 pounds, he ran an official 4.92 40-yard-dash and excelled in all drills.
There is no chance Robinson takes a dive in the draft, but he is up here for obvious reasons, as franchise tackles do not come around often.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Cincinnati's biggest need at the moment resides in the offensive trenches. Andrew Whitworth kicked inside to left guard last season when starter Clint Boling was lost for the year and excelled.
In fact, Whitworth did so well that the staff may keep him on the interior, according to Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' website.
If that is the case, an instant starter like Jake Matthews makes too much sense.
4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Not happening, but it makes no sense to leave Jadeveon Clowney off the board. He would be quite the remedy to the potential hole Michael Johnson will leave, although recent hefty extensions for Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins would make it hard to keep Clowney around down the road if he lives up to the hype.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
See the Clowney text above.
Khalil Mack is arguably the draft's best player, although his frame at 6'3" and 251 pounds makes him a strange fit in Cincinnati.
But elite pass-rushers are elite pass-rushers, and the defense would find a way to put him to use. Flirtations with a hybrid scheme have been a thing in recent years anyway.
6. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Let the thought of A.J. Green and Sammy Watkins lining up on the field together sink in for a moment.
Now let it go—Watkins is off the board in the top five.
7. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
It is very easy to overreact to Taylor Lewan's performance at the combine. After all, he ran the fastest dash of any offensive lineman (4.87 seconds) and showed well in both jumps and the 3-cone drill.
That said, Lewan could very well make it to Cincinnati's pick. On film, he clearly lets technique falter at times and relies solely on his superb athleticism to dominate. That will not cut it in the pros, so Lewan needs a quality coach to help him excel at the next level. The Bengals have one of the best in Paul Alexander.
8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Corner is the other obvious need in Cincinnati with Leon Hall both aging and a major question mark thanks to a second torn Achilles. Both Terence Newman and Adam Jones are beginning to age as well, and Dre Kirkpatrick can still be considered a work in progress.
Be clear—any corner the Bengals draft will rarely see the field until the latter portion of the season.
Still, Justin Gilbert is one of the best defensive backs in the 2014 draft and would ideally form a quality one-two duo with Kirkpatrick down the road.
9. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Defensive end is far from a need in Cincinnati other than a free agent or mid-round pick who can contribute in the rotation. That said, if the 6'4", 273-pound Kony Ealy falls down the board, the Bengals have a good problem on their hands.
Yes, Margus Hunt was drafted in the second round in 2013 to replace Johnson, but Ealy is a force who would make a strong bid for playing time right away.
10. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is another option in the first for Cincinnati, but like any other corners, he will not see the field much as a rookie.
Which is fine, as Dennard could use some more time to bulk up while not losing speed and learn from a veteran like Hall, who has a similar physical game in all facets.
11. Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Versatility is the name of the game for the Bengals in the offensive trenches, which would explain why the team shuffled it up so much last season and still had one of the best units in the league.
In other words, Zack Martin is an ideal fit. Some argue his arm length and other measurables mean he will never play on the outside, but being groomed by the staff in Cincinnati may change that.
Regardless, Martin can come in and be an upgrade at left guard with Whitworth on the outside or start outside and learn as he goes with Whitworth next to him.
12. Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
Defensive tackle is a sleeper for the Bengals in the first round. Geno Atkins is coming back from a shredded knee, both Devon Still and Brandon Thompson have shown little and Domata Peko is entering the final year of his deal.
Assuming Atkins is back to form, the Bengals may take a forward-looking approach and want to grab the top tackle on the board to replace Peko when his deal expires.
Louis Nix is the top option and a sound fit next to Atkins.
13. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Jason Verrett did well for himself at the combine thanks to blazing speed, although his best fit at the pro level may be strictly in the slot.
That's not a bad thing.
Quality corners are hard to find in numbers on any depth chart in the league, so Verrett would be a welcome addition in Cincinnati.
14. Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
Morgan Moses is debatable as an instant starter, but his ceiling is high and meshes well enough with future need that he makes the list here.
Moses has all the tools to exceed at the next level and is a physical mauler who fits the AFC North well.
15. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Linebacker is the deepest position on the Cincinnati roster thanks to the staff's uncanny ability to find quality undrafted prospects.
If C.J. Mosley falls down the board, the job is even easier. Mosley is a rare prospect who will start every down no matter where he lands.
Mosley's addition shakes things up in Cincinnati quite a bit. Perhaps the team would move Rey Maualuga to the strong side and part ways with the rather expensive James Harrison. Heck, maybe the Bengals trade Maualuga to do right by him.
It is hard to say, but Mosley is the pick if he tumbles and the above options are exhausted.
16. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Obviously, tight end is not a need, but a talent like Eric Ebron has to at least be in play for the Bengals if he takes a dive on draft day—especially with Jermaine Gresham's contract up after the 2014 season.
17. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks blasted an official 4.33 40-yard dash in Indianapolis to reinforce the notion that he is one of the draft's elite weapons.
Cooks will remind most of Carolina's Steve Smith and assume a slot-hybrid role in Cincinnati. The offense loves to move all of its pieces around, and Cooks would certainly find his way into quality playing time despite the presence of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
18. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Thanks to a rare combination of speed and power, Ra'Shede Hageman is high on most boards, especially considering his skills make him a scheme-versatile prospect.
Hageman would spend most of his time on the interior in Cincinnati and show strong in all facets next to Atkins. While not as highly ranked as other teams surely have him, Marvin Lewis and Co. will keep a close eye on Hageman.
19. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
The most complete safety prospect in the class, Calvin Pryor may convince the Bengals to finally address the issue next to Reggie Nelson early in a draft.
Pryor would start right away next to Nelson, and the two would be interchangeable based on the scheme and variables presented by opposing offenses.
20. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Surely a pipe dream, Mike Evans is an ideal fit across from A.J. Green and a wrinkle the team cannot pass up.
Evans would perhaps quickly push out others like Sanu and Jones, but it is another good problem to have—something the team has done well to set itself up for via smart drafting over the years.
21. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
An offensive guard in the first round for the second time in three drafts is likely not the best idea from a financial standpoint, but the Bengals need as much quality beef in front of Dalton as possible.
David Yankey is easily the best guard in the class and will start right away pretty much no matter where he ends up.
22. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Again, linebacker is not a major need. But Ryan Shazier can contribute in situational packages as a rookie until the staff figures out what to do with the overall lineup in the coming years.
Shazier is a natural outside linebacker with a strong nose to find the ball and sideline-to-sideline speed that would allow him to stay on the field for all three downs in a Cincinnati defense known for pulling linebackers in favor of defensive backs in passing situations.
23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
While a bit less versatile than the aforementioned Pryor, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would fit well next to Nelson in the back end of the secondary as primarily a run defender.
The problem with a safety in the first round is the prospect has to be a clear upgrade over what George Iloka brought to the table last year. Clinton-Dix may do so by a hair, but his selection in the first will come down to the shape of the board and which player the staff believes has a higher ceiling.
24. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
A knee issue may remove Cyrus Kouandjio from some teams' boards entirely, but Cincinnati is one franchise that may be willing to take a risk on an arthritic knee in exchange for production on the field when healthy.
It makes sense. Cincinnati is in a position of luxury, and the long-term financial risks of such a move are small thanks to the wage scale.
25. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
As mentioned, in the first round, the Bengals are going to take a quarterback who can undoubtedly start right away or sit and learn for a year.
There is no in between.
There is no Johnny Manziel here because of the media circus his addition would incite, not to mention the fact he would fight for the starting gig. There is no Blake Bortles, who is polarizing in his stock and may push for the starting job.
Derek Carr is the first of many prospects at the position (the rest will not come off the board in the first) who will get a serious look from the Bengals as a long-term option should Dalton falter.