3 draft needs for the Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals had a curious free-agency period, as they let two of the best players from the team on the offensive line walk, and re-signed other average players like CB Dre Kirkpatrick to long-term deals. At this stage of the offseason this is likely the least impressive roster the Bengals have assembled in recent memory, thus finding impact players at multiple positions through the draft will be critical to the club’s success in 2017.
[Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 4 and revised on April 5 to include second-year CB William Jackson in the cornerback need section.]
Need: Defensive end
Carlos Dunlap put together another solid season for the Bengals in 2016, as he posted 67 total pressures to go with 13 batted passes, which smashed his previous career-high of seven in 2013. On the other side, however, Michael Johnson continued his downward trend. He notched just five sacks for the third time in four seasons, and has just 19 in that stretch. He posted career-low grades in overall grade (41.1) and pass rush (41.5), and his 57.1 run blocking graded wasn’t much better. Will Clarke is the only other notable returning defensive end on the roster, but his 43.0 overall grade from last season does not offer much reason for optimism.
Early-round target: Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee
Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett may be the headliner of this year’s impressive edge group, but Barnett has been every bit as productive the past three seasons. While not at the same level athletically as Garrett, he can still bend the corner effectively, as 45 of his 78 pressures in 2016 came outside the opposing tackle. He is also a highly productive player against the run, as he plays with good pad level, can shoot gaps effectively, and jolt blockers with his initial punch. Barnett posted the second-highest overall grade for a college edge player each of the last two seasons, and would be a strong pick for Cincinnati at No. 9 overall.
Mid- or late-round target: Chris Wormley, Edge, Michigan
The Bengals love size and length at defensive end, and at 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Wormley has both. While his lack of top-end athleticism should keep him out of the early rounds and may make him a higher value for 3-4 teams, he ran in a 4.82 40 and 7.08 3-cone at his pro day last month, which makes him more than acceptable in the third round. He uses his length and strength well to defeat blockers at the point of attack, which allowed him to post 39 total pressures and 22 defensive stops in just 567 snaps at Michigan last season.
Need: Offensive line help
With the free agent losses of LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals are now without their best two linemen from the past several years, and look to be dangerously reliant on young players who have yet to prove themselves. Clint Boling is locked into the starting left guard position (despite his well-below-average 55.9 run-blocking grade last season), but each of the other four spots are in desperate need of viable competition.
Early-round target: Forrest Lamp, T, Western Kentucky
Lamp was outstanding in each of the past three seasons at Western Kentucky, as he only gave up a combined three sacks and 10 QB hits between 2014 and 2016 while starting at left tackle for the Hilltoppers. While his length is not ideal to stay at tackle, he possesses the foot quickness, leverage and strength to possible contribute at all five offensive line positions, which would make him a perfect fit for the Bengals, who have a number of shaky spots on the current offensive line. This draft class lacks elite offensive line talent, but Lamp is certainly in play for Cincinnati’s second-round pick, No. 41 overall.
Mid- or late-round target: Fred Zerblis, G, Colorado State
Athletic limitations are likely to push Zerblis to Day 3, but he is able to make up for these deficiencies with excellent awareness and angles. Over the past two seasons for Colorado State he yielded a total of just 10 QB pressures, none of them resulting in sacks. What makes him so consistent in this phase is how quick he is to diagnose and adjust to stunts, as he rarely lets a looper in unblocked through his area. On run blocks, he excels in space by utilizing good footwork to get the angle on his man, allowing him to consistently seal off his gap assignments. The Bengals love to run counter plays, for which he’ll fit right in with his pulling ability, plus they also utilize a mid-zone attack, which Zerblis did plenty of at Colorado State.
The Bengals (and the NFL, for that matter) have yet to decide what to do with CB Adam Jones after his most recent legal problems, but regardless of whether they cut him or keep him, depth and top-end talent at the position is severely lacking. As of now, Jones and Kirkpatrick are the starters, and both posted overall and coverage grades below 80.0 last season. Joshua Shaw gives them some level of depth (73.0 overall grade in 2016), but former first-round pick Darqueze Dennard continues to disappoint (53.3 overall grade), and last year’s first round pick, William Jackson, is recovering from a torn pectoral and has yet to play an NFL down. Jones should not be considered part of the Bengals’ long-term plans, and the rest of the depth chart should not preclude them from tapping into this deep and talented CB class.
Early-round target: Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Tankersley had an excellent combine workout, as he measured 6-foot-1 and 199 pounds and ran a 4.40 40-yard dash. He also played extremely well for the national champs, as he allowed just 47.6 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed while racking up 13 total pass-defenses. His over-aggressiveness in man coverage put him out of position at times, but it serves him well on run defense, a critical component to Cincinnati’s cover-2-heavy scheme.
Mid- or late-round target: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
There were certainly whispers heading into this year’s Senior Bowl about King needing to transition to safety, and those whispers became shouts after he struggled all week in man coverage. However, he is an outstanding run defender, and works very well in zone coverage. Over the last three years at Iowa he gave up a QB rating of just 48.3 and picked off 14 balls while breaking up another 24. He is also a solid returner, making him a high-value pick in possibly as late as round four.