The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to be one of the teams in competition for the AFC North title in 2016. A year after watching the Bengals implode against arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the team looks to follow-up and make greater strides this season.
We’ll know more about the future of the team after the first round of the draft is completed. Will they go “all-in” for 2016, meaning, do they select what would amount to an impact receiver? Or do they pick a long-term project player as they’ve been known to try?
With the losses of Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta Falcons) and Marvin Jones (Detroit Lions) in the offseason, the Bengals are a few receivers short of the depth they’ve grown accustomed to. With that being one of the glaring holes the team is at a small crossroads. Do they select a receiver early and expect him to put up incredible numbers in his rookie season? Or, do they favor a later round receiver (like Jones and Sanu) and expect him to slot in as the third or fourth option behind A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert?
These questions will be the first of many that the Bengals “War Room” has to debate heading into the draft. They’ll also have to battle the question of picking a receiver with the idea of drafting a project player.
Last season we saw the Bengals select Cedric Ogbuehi, an offensive linemen that would’ve probably been a top five pick before a season-ending injury pushed him to the bottom of the first round. Ogbuehi has since regained strength and learned under the likes of Andrew Whitworth and company, and developed into a bright star moving forward. He’ll be a starter next season and should be a mainstay for the rest of his career. That project worked out well.
They’ve also selected guys like Darqueze Dennard, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Kevin Zeitler and allowed them to work their ways into the starting lineup, not pressuring them to be stars from day one. This method has worked well and has allowed the team to be called “the deepest team in the NFL” or “the most talented team 1-53, in the NFL” from NFL luminaries all over network TV.
With these things in mind, there seem to be a few options for Cincinnati in the first round.
- Draft a receiver that fits the bill as a top tier target on Andy Dalton’s offense.
- Draft a longer term project that has fell down the board due to injury.
- Draft a depth player that will eventually fill a pivotal role. However, this pick won’t make an immediate boom.
These are the essential choices the Bengals have laying at their feet ahead of the draft that is now, right at our doorstep.
If Marvin Lewis dives down the first rabbit hole, he’ll likely please the fan base that believes next season should end with a Super Bowl championship. The fan base is in outcry mode after losing beloved options Jones and Sanu. They want an immediate replacement that will play a fundamental role in the offense.
What options are out there?
- Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
- Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
- Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
- Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
- Michael Thomas, WR, OSU
These are really the five guys we’re going to talk about. Ideally, Laquon Treadwell falls to Cincinnati. You may wonder why that’s an ideal thing? If he’s falling, something has to be wrong, right? People don’t like the leg injury he suffered two years ago. It was a nasty play and leaves question marks everywhere. But for the most part, this point is overplayed. He isn’t the greatness route runner and likely won’t burn many corners with his 4.63 40-yard dash. That’s a lot slower than Green’s 4.5 he ran in 2011. These things do appear to dampen the expectations for Treadwell. But that’s why he isn’t going to be a top 10 pick. He’s falling into the 20’s; there’s a big difference between a can’t miss receiver and a mid-20’s pick. He’s not Green or Julio Jones; he’s Anquan Boldin. A receiver that wins jump balls and outmuscles most corners. He’s a possession guy that’s going to be a great second option opposite of Green.
Should Treadwell fall, he should be the pick.
Fuller and Coleman would both be great number two picks. I’m just a tick lower on them than Treadwell, so both would be home runs for different reasons. Fuller is a blazing fast (4.32) outside threat that looks like a burner that could take the top off of a defense. He could become Green’s best friend in week one. Coleman, much like Fuller, is a blazer. A 4.37 40-yard dash time at his pro day make him a viable option for Cincinnati. He’s a little less polished, and I worry about production inflation in the Big 12. Taken aside, he’s a great route-runner and can burn just as well as Fuller. I would grade Fuller slightly ahead of Coleman, and I assume the Bengals would do the same.
Doctson is the only other receiver I would consider. He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and is a bit taller than both of the aforementioned receivers (6’2”). He is the least polished of the big four and wouldn’t turn as many heads. But he fits the bill as a number two beside Green. Thomas is off my board as a first round pick. Should the Bengals trade down (as if that would ever happen), he becomes a much better option in the second round.
Taking option two for the Bengals wouldn’t be as popular as the first choice, at least immediately. Ogbuehi wasn’t a popular pick on the first day, but fans are starting to see why the pick happened and seem to love it.
The main topic of discussion, Notre Dame linebacker, Jaylon Smith, suffered a devastating knee injury to end last season. How has this changed things? Well, he was a consensus top five pick last season, now? He’s in danger of falling into the latter part of the first round. A significant change that opens up a window of opportunity for the Bengals.
New information came out today that some doctors are saying his knee is a ticking time bomb with all of the nerve damage. This is a major concern. It could be career jeopardizing. Or, he could come back and be fine. That’s where the gamble comes in. You truly have no idea what you’re going to get from him. He could be the best player from this draft or he could be out of the NFL after two seasons.
The Bengals love their pass rush and you can never have enough solid linebackers. Would they consider this pick? Yes. For sure. Would they pull the trigger? Probably. Will they? Who knows?
The last option would be for the Bengals to select some interior line help on either side of the ball, or maybe some secondary help. The Bengals and Lewis himself, love having depth. They do have holes that could be addressed, but they also have possible fillers on their roster. They can also fill these holes later in the draft.
Some of the names to watch for. . .
- Noah Spence, DE, EKU
- Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
These two have floated around on the Bengals radar. Sure, there are several other options (most of which we haven’t even connected to the Bengals) but these two are the main options to think about.
Spence and Billings will both fill gaps on the Bengals D-Line. Spence could become a great pass rusher and Billings would fill in the gap that Domata Peko is starting to leave. He’s got age and will need a full-time replacement.
If I had to lay down a solid prediction, it would be at the wide receiver position. There have been grumblings that the Bengals aren’t sold on Lewis as a Super Bowl winning coach while also giving him a one-year extension, go figure. With that in mind, this year should be an all-in type of season for the Bengals. For Marvin Lewis to keep his job, 2016 must be a good season. That means they’ll likely try and find the most impactful player in the draft. That will probably come from a receiver.
Which one? That’s where the real debate comes in.