The Cincinnati Bengals failed to reach the playoffs last season for the first time in six years. This was partially due to injuries and a tough schedule, but it was still obvious the team regressed in some key areas. The injury to A.J. Green highlighted the fact that the Bengals don’t have any real secondary receiving threat after the departure of Marvin Jones and Muhammed Sanu following the 2015 season. The offensive line was also shaky, allowing quarterback Andy Dalton to be sacked 41 times, tied for the second most in the league.
After this season’s disappointing finish, the Bengals let even more key pieces walk, allowing all-pro offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to sign with the Los Angeles Rams, and guard Kevin Zeitler to sign with the Browns. For a team that is clearly trending in the wrong direction, a solid haul on draft day is crucial. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the key positions where the Bengals will be looking to improve on draft day, and the players who could potentially fill them.
Offensive Line- Potential targets: Western Kentucky OG Forrest Lamp, Utah OT Garret Bolles, Wisconsin OG Ryan Ramczyk. With the departure of Whitworth and Zeitler, and the already shaky nature of the Bengal’s Offensive line, it’s safe to say this is an obvious area of need. All three players will likely be available when the Bengals make their selection, so they need to decide how big of a priority the O-line is for this team.
Defensive Line- Potential targets: Alabama DT Johnathan Allen, Stanford DE Solomon Thomas, Tennessee DE Derick Barnett, Michigan State DT Malik McDowell. It’s doubtful that Allen or Thomas would fall far enough for the Bengals to select them with the 9th pick, but if they do, the Bengals would be fools not to take advantage. Their pass rush was lackluster last season, and they have no real pass rush threat other than Carlos Dunlap. Barnett seems like the most realistic option here, as he would be a nice complement to Dunlap on the other side, and he is also likely to be available when the Bengals are on the clock. McDowell would be a reach that early, but he’ll be a steal in the second round, if he falls that far.
Wide Receiver- Potential targets: Corey Davis- Western Michigan, Mike Williams- Clemson, John Ross- Washington. It would be nice to have a secondary target to compliment A.J. Green, especially with the recent injury-prone nature of tight end Tyler Eifert. Davis is the highest rated prospect of the three, but the Bengals can’t go wrong with any of these selections. It just depends on whether they want a strong receiver who can fight for the ball like Davis or Williams, or a speedster like Ross. It’s safe to assume that at least two of these players, if not all three, will be available when the Bengals pick.
Safety- Potential targets: Jamal Adams- LSU, Mailk Hooker- Ohio State, Budda Baker- Washington. Adams is likely out of reach for the Bengals. (The latest projections have him going fourth overall.) But Hooker and Baker are very much in play here. The Bengals desperately missed Reggie Nelson last season, and drafting one of these top prospects would go a long way to helping fill that void. Hooker is a phenomenal athlete who can make plays all over the field, and Baker hits as hard as anyone.
It remains to be seen what direction the Bengals will take on draft day. In the Marvin Lewis era, the organization has consistently demonstrated the ability to draft well. We’ll see if that continues in 2017.