Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft: Final 7-Round Predictions
The Cincinnati Bengals have put together one of the best rosters in the NFL over the past few seasons by building through the draft and free agency. Not only do the Bengals expect to hit on their first-round picks each season, they expect to unearth potential stars later on.
Even though the Bengals didn't lose too many key pieces this offseason, defensive end Michael Johnson being the most notable name, they do have needs to address. Those needs may not require instant starters, but they are still needs nonetheless.
The defensive line must be reinforced because Geno Atkins is returning from a torn ACL, and Johnson needs to be replaced. The presence of Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt lessens the necessity of finding immediate contributers. A similar situation exists in the secondary, as there are too many old starters, and Leon Hall is coming off the second torn Achilles injury of his career.
With all that in mind, it's time to look at some potential targets for the Bengals in the upcoming NFL draft.
Round 1: Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
Even though Leon Hall's rehab is going well, and he is expected to return for the start of the 2014 season, the value of Verrett late in the first round is too high to pass up. Hall is a dominant slot cornerback who performed brilliantly last season, but he will also turn 30 during next season, while Adam Jones will turn 31 and Terence Newman 36.
Dre Kirkpatrick, a 2012 first-round pick, is the only notable young cornerback currently on the roster. Kirkpatrick is 24 years of age and has barely played during his first two seasons in the league because of injuries, subpar performance and depth at the cornerback position.
Verrett's presence on the roster would allow the Bengals to be more patient with Hall during his recovery. Verrett projects as an outstanding slot cornerback who should have the ability to move outside. He is a very aggressive player whose only notable red flag is his height. The TCU prospect is just 5'9" and 189 pounds.
Much like Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals, Verrett compensates for any height-deficiencies with exceptional coverage ability and an aggressive streak.
Because of his very fluid hips, quick feet and outstanding body control, Verrett is able to be physical with receivers in the slot. Being physical in the slot is tougher than being so outside because the slot receiver can't be ushered towards the sideline. Once his physicality affects receivers early in their routes, Verrett is able to turn, run down the field and effectively track the football.
In man coverage, Verrett is very impressive, but he also possesses the instincts and discipline to be an above-average zone cornerback from the first week of his rookie season.
When Hall eventually returns to full health, he and Verrett together would provide more flexibility on the back end of the defense. Once Hall begins to decline or if he is unable to return to full effectiveness after his injury, Verrett becomes a natural heir.
Round 2: Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State)
After addressing their most notable need in the first round, the Bengals are fortunate to be able to address their second most important need in the second round while still finding great value. Scott Crichton is a 22-year-old defensive end from Oregon State who could immediately become a valuable contributor on the edge of the Bengals defensive line.
Crichton isn't a phenomenal athlete, but he is able to burst off the edge before converting speed to power to keep tackles off balance. He uses his hands very well and anticipates the snap to consistently put himself in a good position to attack space. While Crichton is a good pass-rusher, it's his versatility that will make him most appealing to the Bengals.
Just like Michael Johnson, Crichton's pass-rushing ability doesn't come at the expense of quality run defense. His relentless approach in chasing down the quarterback translates to chasing down running backs, but he also maintains his discipline and gap control on a snap-to-snap basis.
With Margus Hunt remaining an unknown commodity for the foreseeable future, adding a flexible defensive end who could immediately contribute in an expanded role is what what the Bengals should be pursuing. Crichton's lack of elite physical traits may keep him from ever being a star player, but that's not how the Bengals have built their defense.
Adding another quality contributor to an already deep defensive line rotation would be the kind of astute move that has marked their roster rebuild in recent seasons.
Round 3: Bashaud Breeland (CB, Clemson)
This year's cornerback class is very deep at the top. While the Bengals do have other directions they could go in at this spot, finding another cornerback is definitely a possibility if the right player falls. Nickel packages are becoming more prominent in today's NFL to counter the evolution of the passing game. Having three quality cornerbacks is a must for every franchise at this stage.
When you couple the direction of the league with the Bengals' age at the cornerback position, Hall's health concerns and Kirkpatrick's unproven status, it's easy to understand why the franchise would take two cornerbacks in the first three rounds of the draft. With Bashaud Breeland available in the third round, that move becomes even more appealing.
Breeland is 5'11" and 197 pounds. He is not an exceptional athlete, but he is powerful for a cover cornerback. He has good arm length, 31 3/4", but more importantly, he is physical at the point of the catch and understands how to use that length to disrupt receivers from disadvantageous positions. When Breeland plays press coverage and is able to initiate contact early in routes, he can be a very effective cornerback.
The ability to break up passes and be physical with receivers early in routes, combined with good enough athleticism to stick with receivers through breaks, should make Breeland an effective cover cornerback in the NFL.
Why won't Breeland be taken in the first round? He needs to develop better instincts in zone coverage and become a more reliable tackler—this is especially true if he is to be a long-term fit for the Bengals' secondary.
This would definitely be a selection made with the future in mind.
Round 4: Paul Richardson (WR, Colorado)
This is a very deep draft for wide receivers, but it will still be tough to find immediate starters after the first round. Fortunately for the Bengals, they already have a strong supporting cast in place for quarterback Andy Dalton. With wideouts A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Dane Sanzenbacher and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham available to catch passes, the loss of Andrew Hawkins in free agency won't be a major concern.
This depth also allows the Bengals to take the most talented receiver available at this point in the draft. Paul Richardson is that player.
Richardson is very similar in style to Brandon Tate, so the Bengals could part ways with the veteran if he is selected at this stage of the draft. Richardson is 6'0", 175 pounds and ran a 4.40 at the combine. He isn't as quick working underneath as the departed Hawkins, but he could be an immediate deep threat and a valuable kick returner during his rookie season.
Hawkins wasn't a huge part of the Bengals passing attack, and there are already players on the roster who can replicate what he did on the field. Adding Richardson to the group gives the offense another viable target who complements Green and other role-playing receivers.
Round 5: Jeff Janis (WR, Saginaw Valley)
The Bengals have been very good at drafting value in recent years. Presuming that is the case this year, then they should try to double down on wide receivers in the middle rounds. The Bengals already have plenty of talent at the receiver position, but potential value as well as the absence of other more pressing needs allows them to be aggressive at the position.
Jeff Janis is a very athletic wide receiver who produced impressive numbers against low level competition in college.
He needs to work on his route-running and his ability to track the football, but he has the potential to be an outside starter in the NFL. His 6'3", 219-pound frame should allow him to fight for the ball against NFL defensive backs.
With Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Dane Sanzenbacher already on the roster, the Bengals shouldn't be desperate to add another slot receiver, even with the departure of Andrew Hawkins. With Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham at tight end, as well as A.J. Green outside, Janis would give the Bengals the ability to go with bigger receiving options.
Round 6: Kevin Pierre-Louis (LB, Boston College)
Emmanuel Lamur was expected to step into a bigger role for the Bengals defense last season, but a shoulder injury sent him to injured reserve before the season even started. Lamur will return to the team this season, but he remains a relative unknown considering his health and scarce amount of time he has spent on the field to this point in his career.
Lamur's status, combined with the release of James Harrison, suggests the Bengals need to draft a linebacker.
Harrison was a strong-side linebacker who specialized in stuffing the run. The Bengals already have two excellent run-stuffers in Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, while Vincent Rey's contributions as an all-around player didn't go unnoticed last season.
What the Bengals linebacking corps needs is more speed.
Kevin Pierre-Louis is a similar player to Lamur. Though Lamur is much taller than Pierre-Louis, both players are able to use their length to provide tight coverage while also displaying the quickness and speed to turn and run with tight ends.
Pierre-Louis has the burst to be a decent pass-rusher, but he lacks stoutness at the point of contact. He has the talent to be an all-around, every-down starting linebacker, but responding to coaching and honing a more aggressive streak will be critical to his development as a player.
In today's NFL, safety-linebacker hybrids such as Pierre-Louis and Lamur carry more value. Just last year the Seattle Seahawks primarily played two weak-side linebackers during the Super Bowl instead of a weak-side and strong-side linebacker.
Filling Harrison's roster spot with a different kind of player would be a step in the right direction for the Bengals.
Round 6: Seantrel Henderson (OT, Miami)
With Anthony Collins departing in free agency, the Bengals need some help at the offensive tackle position. Marshall Newhouse is expected to fill Collins' role as the primary backup, but he appears to have hit the ceiling on his career after four years with the Green Bay Packers. Furthermore, because Andrew Whitworth is so impressive when moved to guard, the Bengals should prioritize quality backup left tackles.
Even with Newhouse in place as the primary backup at this point of the season, Seantrel Henderson is a good value selection in the fifth round. Henderson is a very impressive athlete who has all the talent to be a high-quality starter at the left tackle position.
He needs a lot of work to become a consistent player, though, especially when projecting to the next level.
Henderson's footwork is very inconsistent, and his functional strength doesn't match up with his size. He lacks the technique to truly get the most out of his physical length and bulk. With a strong coaching staff in place, the Bengals will feel confident that they can coach Henderson up and make him a viable backup at worst.
The 22-year-old stands at 6'7" and 331 pounds with 34 5/8" arms. He doesn't project as a versatile lineman who could be moved inside if he fails at tackle.
It's unclear where Henderson will actually be drafted. He has the talent to go high in the draft, but character concerns emanating from a failed drug test at the combine could drop him out of the draft completely.
Round 7: Keith Wenning (QB, Ball State)
Andy Dalton will be the Bengals starting quarterback next season and likely for as long as Marvin Lewis is the head coach. However, Dalton does need to improve and even hinting at competition could be beneficial for their quarterback situation.
There is never anything but developmental or limited-ceiling quarterbacks available this late in the draft. Hitting on a Tom Brady is the exception to the rule.
Keith Wenning is clearly the best available signal-caller at this stage of the draft. Of course, by Round 7, that isn't a huge compliment.
Still, there is talent with Wenning. Despite his big body, the 6'3", 219-pound Wenning doesn't have a huge arm or great touch on underneath throws. He may have issues fitting the ball into tight windows on the next level.
However, offsetting his lack of ideal physical traits is his intelligence.
Wenning started four seasons in college and and is a very well-coached signal-caller. He should be comfortable in camp early in his career but will need to adjust to playing more under center. The Bengals offense may change with Hue Jackson as the offensive coordinator, but they have a group of players who fit well in a shotgun-heavy offense.
Round 7: Antonio Andrews (RB, WKU)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis should give way to Giovani Bernard as the primary back in Cincinnati this upcoming season. Green-Ellis will likely stay on the roster, but competition for that spot will be important because he isn't guaranteed to be there after 2014.
Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman are the other backs on the roster. Burkhead's role should grow over the coming seasons because he has the talent to be a good reserve player. Peerman is a veteran who will be fighting for a roster spot.
Antonio Andrews is a very talented football player who struggled to hold onto the football in college. He had six fumbles in 267 carries during his final season in college, a number that would be much too high for an NFL feature back, who might he asked to carry the ball 300 times in a season.
Andrews has good size and enough of a burst to be a good goal-line back early in his career. While Bernard is an impressive in short-yardage situations and has the talent to stay on the field for all three downs, having another young back to help control his workload will be important.
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