The 2014 NFL draft could determine the direction of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise over the coming seasons. Marvin Lewis and the rest of his staff will be hoping that direction points toward a deeper run in the playoffs, but too many missed picks could cause them to slide back into mediocrity.
Entering the draft, the Bengals have nine total draft picks. One in each of the first five rounds, two in the sixth and two in the seventh. Each of the extra picks in the sixth and seventh round are compensatory picks—therefore they cannot be traded.
You can find the exact positions of each draft pick here.
With those picks, the Bengals will be hoping to address a few key areas. A new defensive end is the most pressing need on the roster, because of the departure of former starter Michael Johnson in free agency. After that, the Bengals need to add more youth to the secondary, at the cornerback position specifically. With Rey Maualuga entering a contract year, the Bengals may also be tempted to invest a high pick in a linebacker.
Each of those areas are notable, but none are as notable as the quarterback.
Multiple reports, here and here, have suggested that the Bengals are considering drafting Teddy Bridgewater. The Louisville quarterback prospect was expected to be a top pick in the draft, competing with Jadeveon Clowney for first player taken, but his stock has plummeted throughout the draft process.
Bridgewater has fallen so far that some suggest he won't be a first-round pick.
Of course, if the Bengals select him with their first pick, then not only will that prove to be untrue, but he will also be expected to start over Andy Dalton in 2014. What the Bengals then do with Dalton would be the next most important step, because there would likely be a strong interest from other quarterback-needy teams.
Bridgewater is very talented, but part of the Bengals' interest in him must be their reluctance to give Dalton a long-term contract. Dalton may have taken the team as far as he can. If that is the case, then Bridgewater is the best direction to go in.
However, if the Bengals still believe in Dalton and all of these rumors are just attempts to gain more leverage in contract negotiations, then the franchise will likely look to improve the offense around him.
The Bengals already have a very talented offense, but this is a very deep wide receiver draft so there could be good value to take advantage of in the middle rounds. Their primary concern on offense will be in the trenches.
Losing Kyle Cook and Anthony Collins doesn't dramatically hurt the quality of the Bengals starting offensive line, but it does affect their depth. Moves made in free agency weren't enough to adequately fill out the roster.