Cincinnati Bengals Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
It's quietly an important draft for the Cincinnati Bengals this year.
The majority of the team's playoff roster from last season is returning, but some of those returning players aren't fully healthy, while others are clinging to the final stages of their careers. With both coordinators now filling head coach roles elsewhere, maximising the talent on the roster will be vital for determining the team's success.
New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will be hoping to add more pieces to support quarterback Andy Dalton, but the opportunity to create some competition at the position may be too tough to ignore.
With Michael Johnson's departure in free agency and Geno Atkins' uncertain return from a torn ACL injury, new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is under pressure to keep the strength of his defense in tact. The draft can't be fully focused upfront though, because the secondary is ageing and an addition or two at linebacker also can't be ruled out.
The Bengals sit in a strong position entering the draft, but they need to keep the arrow pointing in the right direction or they risk regression to mediocrity.
Key Offseason Additions and Departures
The Bengals already have a roster full of established veterans and high quality players. For that reason, they weren't active in bringing in new faces during free agency. The additions they did make were all low-cost, fringe players who won't be guaranteed to see the field on a regular basis.
Former starting defensive end Michael Johnson agreed to a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 27-year-old had started 30 games over the past two seasons, compiling 15 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles during that time.
While his production on paper wasn't exceptional, Johnson proved to be a consistently effective pass rusher and all-around star for the rotation upfront. The Bengals do have good depth at the position, but replacing 976 quality snaps(Subscription Required) is not an easy task.
Second-year player Margus Hunt along with veterans Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers will likely be asked to take on greater roles. A dark horse candidate to contribute should be Sam Montgomery, a player entering his second season who was released by the Houston Texans during his rookie season.
Even though Johnson was the only starter the Bengals lost in free agency, Anthony Collins' absence will also be felt on the roster entering next season.
Collins was Andrew Whitworth's backup at left tackle last season and he started seven games when left guard Clint Boling was injured. Collins level of play isn't worthy of the deal the Buccaneers gave him in free agency, but the familiarity and consistency he provided as a backup will be tough for the Bengals to replace.
In somewhat of a surprising development, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was signed away from the Bengals as a restricted free agent.
Hawkins signed a four-year deal with the Cleveland Browns after the Bengals decided against matching the offer sheet. Hawkins had always been a very dangerous threat for the Bengals when he got the ball in his hands, but he was primarily a bit-part player during his time in Cincinnati.
The Browns simply offered Hawkins too much money for the Bengals to retain him. They don't necessarily need to replace him because the roster already has a number of receivers and tight ends who can contribute.
Jason Campbell started eight games for the Cleveland Browns last season and threw just 11 touchdowns against eight interceptions. At 32 years of age, it's hard to get excited about the addition of Campbell, but it should be noted that he has a previous relationship with Hue Jackson and brings the consistency that most teams seek out in backup quarterbacks.
Campbell won't push Andy Dalton for his starting spot, but he is the kind of player who can keep the offense on track if Dalton misses time during the season.
Former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse signed with the Bengals in free agency. Newhouse was Dalton's left tackle during his time in college, but after losing his starting spot with the Packers after the 2012 season, he comes to Cincinnati as a backup competing for a roster spot.
Newhouse is a natural offensive tackle, but the Bengals could consider moving him inside because they need depth at different spots on the offensive line. In spite of Whitworth's excellent play at left guard last season, the Bengals won't want to move him away from left tackle again unless they have a replacement they can trust outside.
The Bengals had a clear philosophy in free agency this offseason and they rounded it out by adding safety Danieal Manning.
Manning, a nine-year veteran, gives the Bengals a reliable backup safety behind both Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. While Taylor Mays remains on the roster as a situational safety, Manning should be the one who steps into the starting lineup when needed and who plays more often in nickel packages.
While he may not have the range he had in previous seasons, Manning is still a smart player who can be a valuable contributor in a fringe role.
Needs feels like too strong a word for the Bengals roster. There is no gaping hole in the starting lineup that needs to be filled in the draft and there are enough building blocks in place for the team to make the playoffs over the coming seasons.
The Bengals need to continue to create competition throughout the roster and be prepared for any potential losses in the future.
The positions the franchise most need to address are:
2. Defensive End
3. Offensive Line
5. Wide Receiver
Even when you disregard Leon Hall's Achilles injury, the Bengals must address the cornerback position in this draft. That is because each of their top three players at the position, Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones, will all be 30 years old entering next season.
Dre Kirkpatrick is the only young cornerback that the Bengals have invested heavily in during recent seasons.
The Bengals have plenty of depth at the defensive end position despite the departure of Michael Johnson. However, that depth primarily comprises of proven veterans who are more likely to decline than become starting caliber players.
In a perfect world, Margus Hunt would establish himself as a quality starter this season to play across from Carlos Dunlap. With Dunalp and Hunt as starters, Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers would be the backups. Gilberry is old, but he is also good enough to remain a primary backup.
Geathers on the other hand is 30 years of age and has never been anything more than a reliable part of the rotation.
With Kyle Cook and Anthony Collins no longer occupying places on the depth chart, the Bengals need to add a body or two to their group of offensive linemen. The addition of Marshall Newhouse and the return of Mike Pollak will offer the franchise some flexibility in terms of where and who they draft.
Pollak will likely take Cook's spot as the starting center, keeping Trevor Robinson in a backup role. That would allow the Bengals to either take a priority guard to compete with Clint Boling for his starting spot, or draft multiple pieces later in the draft to compete for backup roles.
Sometimes, a position of need isn't obvious until the right player comes along. When the Bengals selected Tyler Eifert last year, they didn't necessarily need a tight end, but they did need another weapon on offense. At linebacker, the Bengals could make a similar move this year.
With Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga entrenched as starters, the Bengals have a good base of strong, run-stuffing linebackers who can play a lot of snaps. However, they are primarily dependent on Emmanuel Lamur, a relatively unproven player who is coming off a serious injury, to be the athletic nickel linebacker who can cover tight ends and be more effective in space.
This is the kind of draft that could offer the Bengals too much value to pass up at the position. Players such as Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley could be available in the first round, while Telvin Smith or Kevin Pierre-Louis later in the draft would be perfect complements to the pieces already on the roster.
Depth at the safety position, most notably Danieal Manning and Taylor Mays, could also factor into the decision making here.
Because of the depth of this class, the Bengals will likely want to take a wide receiver at some point. While the roster is already stacked with talented pass catchers, nobody has established themselves as the clear number two behind A.J. Green at this stage.
Much like the situation at linebacker, this position will be addressed if the right players fall to the Bengals.
The Bengals' first scheduled pick in the 2014 draft is 24th overall.
Picking in the back half of the first round obviously isn't as good as picking in the top 10, but this year the difference between the top half and bottom shouldn't be dramatic. The depth of this draft should provide a variety of different options for the Bengals to choose from when they are on the clock.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It appears that Bridgewater is going to be available for the Bengals to select during the first round of the draft. Even though Andy Dalton remains the starter, Bridgewater would offer the Bengals real competition and someone who could potentially supplant Dalton before the beginning of the 2014 regular season.
Even though he may fall in the draft, Bridgewater is a special talent.
2. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
If Verrett was an inch or two taller, he would be a top 10 pick. Verrett is just 5'9" and 189 lbs. He will be an ideal slot cornerback in the NFL who should also be able to be effective playing outside. With the uncertainty over Leon Hall's health for the 2014 season and the long-term need for youth at the cornerback position, Verrett would be an ideal choice for the Bengals.
The biggest concern with Verrett is whether he falls because of his size or if a top 20 team decides to look past it to take him.
3. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
There are a number of very talented cornerbacks who are expected to go in the first round of this draft. Depending on where the first one is taken, the run could leave the Bengals with none or it could leave them with a couple to choose from. If Fuller is available, he would be one of the favourites to land in Cincinnati.
He doesn't have the same versatility as Verrett, but Fuller should be able to compete against Adam Jones and Terence Newman for playing time on the outside during his rookie season.
4. Anthony Barr, DE, UCLA
Anthony Barr was once expected to be a top 10 pick in this draft, but that seems unlikely now. Barr is a raw physical talent who converted to the defensive side of the ball after initially playing running back in college. His 6'5", 225 lb frame and exceptional explosion numbers give him the potential to be a very effective pass rusher in the NFL.
Barr needs a lot of development, but the Bengals have the means to be patient with him and they showed last season with Margus Hunt that they are willing to take risks on athletes.
5. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama.
Linebacker isn't an obvious need for the Bengals, but Mosley is another of those very talented players who could be pushed down in the draft. Mosley is a rangy linebacker who can line up at different spots and do a variety of things for any defense. He would be the perfect complement to Vontaze Burfict and an eventual replacement for Rey Maualuga.
Despite not being a desperate need, Mosley would immediately improve the Bengals defense and be a very valuable piece for the future.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Even though the very nature of draft analysis means that different people will see different things, a clear pattern emerges when you take a closer look at the Bengals' selections in various expert mock drafts.
"Fuller has all the tools of a top-tier, physical man-coverage cornerback. The trick is keeping him healthy, as he's struggled with bumps and bruises at Virginia Tech.
On pure tools, Fuller deserves to be off the board much sooner than this, but team needs and questions about injuries happen to push him down the board. On Thursday night, don't be surprised if he's a top-15 pick."
Fuller would be a great pick for the Bengals, but the key point that Miller makes has nothing to do with his fit in Cincinnati. Fuller is very unlikely to still be on the board at this stage of the draft. He is talented enough to go 10th overall to the Detroit Lions and there are multiple teams who could take him before he even reaches 20th overall.
"Although shoulder surgery will likely keep Verrett shelved until training camp, he is an outstanding cover man who will be able to help the Bengals immediately in the secondary."
Verrett would be an ideal selection for the Bengals' secondary, but Brugler does hit on an important point that can't be ignored. That shoulder injury may put some teams off and could push Verrett even further down the board.
"Cincinnati has a lot of older pieces at cornerback. In a draft that's rich in top-level talent at the position, the Bengals should strike. In some mock drafts, Fuller has been the first corner off the board. The Bengals may be lucky if he drops to No. 24."
Again, just like Matt Miller, Kadar of SBNation will be surprised if Fuller actually falls this far during the real draft.
"According to their explanations in the ESPN.com story that accompanied the three-round mock, Kiper selected Fuller in the first round because he addresses the Bengals' need for depth behind veterans Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman. Fuller "has a chance to be really good," according to Kiper."
Latest Rumors, Reports & Analysis
Although it's impossible to know what is true and what is false, tracking the rumors at this stage of the year is always interesting.
Is Bridgewater falling into the Bengals' lap?
According to Chris Mortenson of ESPN, "Teddy Bridgewater is in discussion as fallback option" for the Bengals.
Another "surprise" QB team to watch: Bengals, even though there are needs at CB & DL. Teddy Bridgewater is in discussion as fallback option— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) May 3, 2014
Taking Bridgewater in the first round would signal that the Bengals are ready to move on from Andy Dalton instead of giving him a blockbuster contract extension. It would also mean that the Bengals offense would have a brand new quarterback-offensive coordinator combination entering the 2014 season.
While Mortenson suggests Bridgewater as a fallback option, a trade up to snag him may not be out of the question. Including Dalton in any deal is a possibility because he is still on his rookie contract.
More Bridgewater-Bengals Connections.
After Mortenson's initial tweet, Peter King of The MMQB chimed in on the Bengals' interest in Bridgewater also.
"Bengals like Teddy Bridgewater. They couldn’t. Could they? Well, if you’re Cincinnati, and you’re seriously thinking about making Andy Dalton the center of the franchise and paying him $17 million a year, you might be asking the question about whether Dalton’s worth it."
King didn't reference Mortenson's initial report, so we must presume that he has acquired this information through his own sources. While a lot of falsehoods are perpetuated at this time of the year, it's tough to fool two experienced, established writers such as King and Mortenson.
Trading Up? Not so fast.
While the possibility of trading up can't be ignored because of the situation with any potential Bridgewater pick and Dalton's value, Coley Harvey of ESPN points out that the Bengals don't generally move up in the draft.
"Yeah, it's doubtful any trade-ups are happening for the Bengals. That is just a practice they haven't really exercised much in recent seasons, and they have little incentive to try to pull off a draft-day trade this year."
Even if the Bengals are reluctant to move up based on philosophical reasons, the reality is that they have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. They have no glaring needs so they can afford to be more aggressive on draft day if the right situation arises.
7-Round Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft
There are many different directions in which the Bengals can go this year.
Round 1, Pick No. 24: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville.
Let's trust Peter King and Chris Mortenson on this. If Bridgewater is available, the Bengals should snap him up because he is clearly the best quarterback in this class. Even though the draft process has made many sour on him, Bridgewater's tape should erase those concerns.
Too much has been made about Bridgewater's frame and not enough has been made of his ability to be an immediate starter. He has the intelligence and precision required to be an above-average starter from Week 1 of his rookie season.
Round 2, Pick No. 55: Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice.
If there is one spot on the roster that the Bengals need to address early in the draft, it's the cornerback position. Philip Gaines is a very talented player who needs time to develop. The Bengals have veterans in place as well as a strong coaching staff who can take the time to develop Gaines into a quality starter.
Gaines isn't exceptionally young, he just turned 23, but he could sit for up to two years before being inserted into the lineup.
Round 3, Pick No. 88: Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee.
Ideally, the Bengals would like to add a player who can compete with Clint Boling for the starting left guard spot or a potential starting center during the first three rounds of the draft. However, in this draft that player doesn't fall to them.
Instead they take the best value offensive lineman available, Antonio Richardson. Richardson is a tackle with incredible athleticism. He needs to develop better technique, but in terms of pure physical talent he has long-term starter potential.
Round 4, Pick No. 123: Devonta Freeman, RB, FSU.
The Bengals have good depth at the running back position, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis shouldn't be around much longer. With Giovani Bernard entrenched as a starter, they will only be looking for complementary players at the position in this draft.
Freeman's value at this point of the draft is too tempting to pass on. He could immediately compete for playing time as a nickel back because of his pass protection, meaning the Bengals could be more diverse in how they use Bernard.
Round 5, Pick No. 164: Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB, Boston College.
Pierre-Louis will remind the Bengals of a shorter Emmanuel Lamur. Lamur was expected to be an important player for the defense in 2013, but injury stopped his season before it began. Defenses are moving towards having more linebackers who can cover, so adding Pierre-Louis to not only compete with Lamur for playing time but maybe also play with him in certain packages makes sense.
Round 6, Pick No. 199: Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan.
Andrew Hawkins departed for the Cleveland Browns this year. The Bengals don't necessarily need to replace him with someone from the draft, but they can add a player who could offer that skill set and be a punt returner by taking Jeremy Gallon in the sixth round.
Round 6, Pick No. 212: Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami.
Seantrel Henderson has the physical talent of a first round pick, the production of a third round pick and the character concerns of an undrafted free agent. It's tough to determine where Henderson will go, but some teams will likely have him completely off their boards.
The biggest issue for Henderson is that he failed a drug test at the combine. A number of players have done this in recent seasons and still gone on to success in the NFL, including Vontaze Burfict of the Bengals.
Round 7, Pick No. 239: Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford.
Round 7, Pick No. 252: Kerry Wynn, DE, Richmond.
After failing to find a defensive end they were comfortable taking in earlier rounds, the Bengals spend two picks on athletes in the seventh.