With just over two months until the NFL draft it's time for every expert, fan, and critic to speculate as to which player each team will select. In just about every mock draft that we've seen so far, "experts" have the Bengals selecting either a cornerback, offensive lineman, or a running back. It's usually some combination of those three positions.
However, Mike Mayock, of NFL Network, believes that the Bengals don't have to reach for any position when they make their two first round picks in April's draft.
The Bengals have areas that they need to address in the first round. Ideally they would snag a cornerback and offensive lineman in the first round to address two of their primary holes. If they wait until later in the draft to address either position it could come back to blow up in their face. It's hard to envision them reaching for a player or trading up to receive the best player at a certain position at any point.
Cincinnati needs to address the offensive line in the first round. They have five impending free agents in Bobbie Williams, Anthony Collins, Nate Livings, Dennis Roland, and Mike McGlynn. Of those five I think Williams and Collins are the only ones worthy of re-signing for a short-term deal at a reasonable price. Williams provides veteran leadership and he's still a solid lineman. Collins has been a reliable alternative for the Bengals since he was drafted in 2008.
The Bengals also need a cornerback that can provide depth or step in and start immediately. Once Leon Hall went down for the season the Bengals secondary became exposed. In eight games without Hall the Bengals allowed 13 passing touchdowns. In the nine games that Hall played in the defense held opposing offenses to nine passing touchdowns. His absence was felt on the field, so picking a cornerback is a rational assumption.
By the time the Bengals are on the clock with the No. 17 pick they will have a number of directions to go, depending on who's available. Mayock figures that two of the top cornerbacks, Morris Claiborne of LSU and Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama will be off the board by then. If that's the case then the Bengals could go with the best available cornerback or the top available offensive lineman.
"With the loss of Johnathan Joseph you'd like to get a corner that can compete right away," Mayock said. "If they've got a guy they like, fine, go get him. But they can sit there and take the best player."
Joseph has been gone for a season now. There's no need to dwell on his departure anymore. The Bengals brought in Nate Clements to replace him and for the most part he did an adequate job in 2011. The bigger concern should be Hall and his recovery from his Achilles injury. He undoubtedly won't be fully healed by the time the season starts. He was the Bengals top defensive player while he was on the field, but without him the dynamic of the Bengals defense took a drastic turn.
Mayock also senses that Cedric Benson is done in Cincinnati. I think we can all agree with that. He's been done since the end of the 2010 season, but that's not the point. Mayock believes the only running back worthy of being selected in the first round is Alabama's Trent Richardson. For the Bengals it would be a waste to select Richardson or any other running back in the first round because they won't have an offensive line to open running lanes for them. They would get swallowed up by opposing defenses. Andrew Whitworth, Kyle Cook, and Andre Smith can't do everything on their own. The Bengals can wait until the second or third round to pick a running back.
Right now the Bengals primary needs are cornerback and offensive line. Only time will tell what direction the Bengals decide to head in for April's draft.