Cincinnati Bengals 2014 Mock Draft: Round-by-Round Best-Case Scenarios
Cincinnati is fortunate in that it already possesses one of the NFL's most talented rosters, so the team can continue to be proactive about problem areas with picks as it has done in recent years (see, Margus Hunt).
Of course, the Bengals are a bit of a wild card, too. The team may decide it is time to give quarterback Andy Dalton some competition. While it sounds unlikely at this juncture, depending on how the board falls in the heat of the moment, anything can happen.
Here is an early look at how the Bengals can best use their picks in the upcoming draft.
Round 1: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The safe route is the smart path for the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round.
Injuries decimated the Cincinnati offensive line by the end of the season. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth had a strong season but was forced inside with the loss of left guard Clint Boling.
The selection of a prospect such as Taylor Lewan out of Michigan accomplishes a few things. For one, it can maximize Whitworth's talents at this point in his career by keeping him on the inside. Left guard has been an on-and-off concern for a while, so this clears that up.
Two, backup swing tackle Anthony Collins is headed to free agency. This is insurance should Collins leave, which he should as he is a starting-caliber player.
Lewan has seen his draft stock fall rather heavily this season. He has battled with maturity issues, but there has never been any doubt that the 6'8" and 315-pound athletic freak will make for a strong tackle at the pro level with the proper coaching.
Protected by Whitworth and coached up by one of the NFL's best in Paul Alexander, Lewan is the perfect fit in the Queen City.
Round 2: Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The Cincinnati Bengals have no choice but to address cornerback once more in the early goings of a draft.
Leon Hall is once again hurt, Terence Newman is on the wrong side of 30 and Adam Jones is getting up there in age as well. Dre Kirkpatrick will be headed into his third season next year, but his hit-or-miss play with Newman sidelined to close the season did not instill confidence that he is starter material just yet.
At 6'0" and 190 pounds, Loucheiz Purifoy is a hard-hitting corner that enjoys mixing it up in the run game.
2013 was a strong year for Purifoy with two interceptions (one he took back for a score), a forced fumble, two sacks and a blocked punt.
If that sounds like the recipe for a Mike Zimmer cornerback, that's because it is. Purifoy still has plenty of work to do to become a better cover corner, but he instills youth into the position and can take a year or more to learn from the veterans already on the roster.
Round 3: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Here we go.
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis loves his Georgia pipeline, and it just so happens the Bulldogs have a senior quarterback set to tumble down the draft board due to injury and height concerns.
Aaron Murray stands at 6'1" and 208 pounds, but as CBS Sports' Dane Brugler points out, that is a weak argument against his stock:
Really is a bummer we don't get to see #Georgia QB Aaron Murray today. Too many dismiss his NFL chances bc of height - he's a solid prospect— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 1, 2014
Murray certainly has his detractors based off his college tape, but this is not a selection Cincinnati is making with the intention of giving him the starting job as a rookie.
No, Murray is a forward-looking move of the developmental kind with Andy Dalton having one year left on his rookie deal. As NFL Network's Albert Breer illustrates, the Bengals are deep enough to make this kind of move:
One thing being as complete and deep as the Bengals are does for them -- They can afford to spend a draft pick on a developmental QB.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 6, 2014
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has told the media he is not adverse to the idea of drafting a quarterback, per Lance McAlister of 700 WLW:
Jay on drafting QB: If you find a young QB you like, you've got get 'em in this league. I think you do draft one. #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) January 6, 2014
There is plenty to like about Murray, and his selection here in no way prevents the Bengals from bringing in a veteran at some point or a rookie in the 2015 draft. But Murray has upside and the Bengals need a better future option than Josh Johnson, because right now the future is blurry at best with Dalton under center.
Round 4: Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Defensive end is a bit of a concern for the Cincinnati Bengals, so grabbing a prospect with high upside at this point is a savvy move.
With Robert Geathers hurt and aging and Michael Johnson potentially gone, Mike Zimmer's unit needs another infusion of depth to keep the quality rotation alive.
Aaron Lynch is a ridiculously raw prospect who should remind a few Bengals fans of Johnson when he came out of Georgia Tech. At 6'5" and 244 pounds, Lynch could use some bulk, but the potential is there for him to develop into a strong 4-3 defensive end.
A former stud at Notre Dame, Lynch gets put in a great spot here in a deep rotation. His stock will wildly fluctuate on his path to the draft, but for now he falls to this spot.
Round 5: Boseko Lokombo, LB, Oregon
Linebacker is not an immediate need in Cincinnati. That said, more depth and a forward-looking approach at the position is never a bad thing.
The Bengals get one more year out of James Harrison at the strong side, and even if that does not occur for one reason or another, Emmanuel Lamur (who was seemingly a challenger for a starting gig at both strong- and weak-side linebacker) will be healthy by the time next year rolls around.
Boseko Lokombo is athletic depth at this point. He joins an absolutely stacked unit that has Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga as the other starters, with Vincent Rey pushing for more playing time as well.
Round 6: Deion Belue, CB, Alabama
Cincinnati is a team that simply cannot have too much depth in the defensive backfield after seeing the unit sabotaged by injuries the past few years.
Deep on the depth chart at corner is the oft-injured Brandon Ghee and the promising Chris Lewis-Harris.
While certainly not a horrible outlook, the addition of a player with enough upside to steal one of those spots is a win in the sixth round.
Deion Belue has seen his stock fall consistently in 2013. Bleacher Report's Dan Hope even argues that he should fall into the realm of undrafted free agency:
Also, I've said it before, but I've never understood the mid-round projections on #Bama CB Deion Belue. Struggles on a strong D. UDFA to me.— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) January 3, 2014
A very hard point to argue, but upside is the name of the game here. Belue is raw and certainly in need of some development, but he'll get plenty of it with the talented staff in Cincinnati—provided said staff remains intact through the offseason.
Round 7: Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Seventh-round selections are typically a shot in the dark, which would be what Jerome Smith out of Syracuse represents for the Cincinnati Bengals here.
Certainly not a position of need, but the Bengals can once again take a forward-looking approach with the understanding that BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be a free agent after the 2014 season and flirting with the dreaded age of 30.
With the way late-round and undrafted running backs have performed as of late (Hi, Bobby Rainey), grabbing one here is a smart play, especially because Smith fits the type of back the Cincinnati offense needs.
Smith is a bruising back in the same mold as "The Law Firm" at 6'0" and 226 pounds. Cincinnati does not have another bruising back to complement starter Giovani Bernard at the moment should Green-Ellis depart after next season, so taking a flier on Smith, who could very well fight his way on to the final roster, makes sense.