Cincinnati Bengals: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
While it will take years to truly gauge just how well the Cincinnati Bengals did in the 2014 NFL draft, it's possible to understand how they have set themselves up moving forward and give initial reactions to the selections.
This draft was a fork in the road for this Bengals team. Having made the playoffs over the past three years but fallen flat immediately on each occasion, the Bengals must improve this year or risk falling back into mediocrity.
A bold, aggressive draft was expected, but that's not necessarily what we got...
The Bengals added eight players to their roster through the draft.
Round 1, Pick 24: Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
Round 2, Pick 55: Jeremy Hill, Running Back, LSU
Round 3, Pick 88: Will Clarke, Defensive End, West Virginia
Round 4, Pick 111: Russell Bodine, Center, North Carolina
Round 5, Pick 164: A.J. McCarron, Quarterback, Alabama
Round 6, Pick 212: Marquis Flowers, Outside Linebacker, Arizona
Round 7, Pick 239: James Wright, Wide Receiver, LSU
Round 7, Pick 252: Lavelle Westbrooks, Cornerback, Georgia Southern
The Bengals' draft went as expected for the most part. The first-round selection of Dennard will have fans excited because they are bringing in a player who many viewed as the best cornerback in this class. More importantly, he should be able to contribute immediately if required.
Hill in the second round was the one shocking selection.
The powerful LSU running back was the second back taken in the whole draft after the Tennessee Titans surprisingly selected Bishop Sankey a few picks before that. Maybe the Bengals were scared of a deep run at the position, but Hill was definitely a strong candidate to fall for another round or two.
He isn't a versatile all-around back and he primarily projects to be a goal-line back for the Bengals. That is a role that BenJarvus Green-Ellis could have done in a complementary role to Giovani Bernard, or even Bernard himself if the coaching staff believed he could carry the whole load.
In the third round, the Bengals went back to predictability.
Clarke is the kind of selection that will get Bengals fans more excited than most other fanbases. He is a developmental defensive end who fits the mold of the recently departed Michael Johnson. It will be interesting to see if the Bengals can continue to turn athletes into excellent football players without Mike Zimmer.
Taking a center in the fourth round was predictable, but taking Bodine wasn't.
Few saw Bodine as a player who would be taken that high in the draft. There were other, seemingly more talented centers available at the time. Bodine lacks lateral quickness, something that is vital in today's NFL, and he will be fortunate to ever develop the technique and awareness to be a starting-caliber player.
Taking McCarron in the fifth round of the draft was a vote of confidence for Andy Dalton. McCarron is neither a player who can quickly take Dalton's starting spot or someone who can be developed into a high-quality starter. He is a safe, backup type of pick that will represent value late in the draft.
Flowers in the sixth round clearly has talent, but he needs to be developed like Emmanuel Lamur. Seventh-round selections Wright and Westbrooks are relative unknowns who will be fighting for roster spots.
Best Pick: Darqueze Dennard
It may seem too simplistic, but the Bengals' best pick was their first pick.
The Bengals weren't sure what cornerback would be available for them when they first went on the clock. Justin Gilbert went in the top 10 and Kyle Fuller went in the top 15, but the run on the position didn't start until the Bengals had taken Darqueze Dennard.
Dennard was the third corner off the board, but the discrepancy in evaluations across the major media sites suggest that he could easily be the top player that the position.
He is not a big player and he's not exceptionally fast, so that is likely why he was still available late in the first round. Instead, Dennard relies on his technique and quickness to stick to receivers in press-man coverage.
He can line up all over the field whether he is covering a big receiver outside or manning a quick receiver in the slot. In college, he even lined up across from the offensive line to cover running backs and tight ends.
Dennard is a strong, consistent tackler and the kind of player who should take to coaching to improve after he is drafted. The only notable knock on him is his lack of top-tier athleticism.
Worst Pick: A.J. McCarron
The quarterbacks in this draft fell far down the board. When the Bengals took A.J. McCarron, they could have taken Zach Mettenberger, but before that point they could have also chosen between Logan Thomas or Aaron Murray.
By selecting A.J. McCarron, the Bengals brought in a high-floor, low-ceiling player who doesn't push Andy Dalton to improve at all.
McCarron's lack of elite physical traits mean that there is no intimidation factor during training camp and no long-term potential to usurp Dalton. McCarron will be overachieving if he beats out Jason Campbell as the team's primary backup over the next two years.
The Bengals proved to be gun shy at the position in spite of Dalton's limitations over the past two years and his upcoming contract expiry. Not only did they unwisely pass on Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, they also passed on too many quarterbacks from the second round to the fourth round before taking someone who does nothing to improve the roster now.
Undrafted Free Agents
Alex Neutz, WR, Buffalo
Neutz is a big receiver who will need to have an outstanding training camp if he is to make the roster. Because the Bengals already have many, many weapons on offense and drafted a receiver in the seventh round, the odds are stacked against Nunez.
Trey Hopkins, OL, Texas
Hopkins is the type of offensive lineman the Bengals were looking for this year. Like the departed Anthony Collins, he is a versatile player who played both guard and tackle in college. He will likely only play guard in the NFL, but his versatile skill set will be welcomed.
Nikita Whitlock, FB, Wake Forest
Ryan Hewitt, FB, Stanford
Whitlock was a college defensive lineman who is expected to move to fullback in the pros. Hewitt played fullback in college and will be competing with Whitlock and Orson Charles for the Bengals' starting spot.
Colin Lockett, WR, San Diego State
Lockett is a small receiver who is unlikely to win a roster spot based solely on his ability on offense. He will need to prove himself as a valuable contributor on special teams if he is to make the roster.
James Wilder Jr., RB, FSU
From national champion to undrafted, James Wilder Jr. should have a fire lit beneath him after being passed over by every team in the league. He faces a tough fight for a roster spot though, as the Bengals are set at the running back position.
Kevin Palmer, OL, Baylor
Palmer appears to be a defensive lineman who will be converted to the offensive side of the ball. He is a developmental prospect who likely will struggle to make the practice squad.
Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
Lewis is a strong safety who is very unlikely to make the Bengals roster unless a slate of injuries hit the position.
James Davidson, DE, UTEP
Davidson is a developmental defensive end who will need to accelerate his growth to crack the Bengals' very deep defensive line rotation.
Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss
Scott is a very dynamic runner with good speed, but he is very small and very light. His ability to break tackles on the next level will likely be nonexistent.
Whats Next for Cincinnati Bengals?
The Bengals could have been more aggressive in their pursuit of advancing further than the Wild Card Round in the playoffs. Their three successive losses in their first game of the playoffs over the last three seasons heap the pressure on Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis.
Dalton is the focal point now.
Opportunities arose to replace the quarterback during this draft and they were turned down. Marvin Lewis has attached his future to the young quarterback, so the Bengals must decide now if they want to try to negotiate a cheaper deal before this season, or risk a big year from Dalton that will severely bloat his price.
Taking the second option seems like a win-win situation because a big year from Dalton should push the Bengals towards the Super Bowl, but being locked into a Joe Flacco-type contract after that point could prove to be a major problem.
As was the case last year, the Bengals will go as far as Dalton allows them to. They are the simplest team in the NFL to predict moving forward.