In the recent flood of mock drafts that have been coming from sports commentators and Internet guru's across America, the Bengals have been predicted to draft a running back (three different running backs to be exact), a guard, a cornerback (three different cornerbacks), safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen. Needless to say, there is no true consensus on what the Bengals need for two reasons: 1) The Bengals have a lot of holes that need to be filled and 2) if Mike Brown decides to be a player in free agency this year, whoever he plans to spend money on could drastically change their needs on April 23rd.
The latest mock draft from CBSSports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler is one of the more interesting mock drafts to date because Brugler has the Bengals using both of their first round picks on defensive skill players. This mock draft will have a wide variety of reactions, but it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for a Bengals defense that had serious struggles in the secondary after Leon Hall's season was cut short from a ruptured Achilles and other players in the secondary (Nate Clements and Chris Crocker) are not getting any younger.
Brugler has the Bengals, with their first pick at No. 17, taking North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins:
The Bengals have always valued cornerbacks in the first round (Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph) and they have a need. One of the biggest winners from the Senior Bowl practices last week was Jenkins who separated himself as the top defensive back in the senior class. He carries some character and off-field concerns that will push him down draft boards, but Cincinnati has always shown a willingness to take chances on some questionable guys.
After losing Jonathon Joseph to the Houston Texans in free agency last year and the devastating Achilles injury to Hall, the Bengals are in dire need of a shut-down cornerback. Adam Jones filled in for Hall the last eight weeks of the season, but it became increasingly clear that Jones fits more as a nickel back because of his size and propensity to get beat over the top by larger, faster wide receivers. After seeing Jenkins during the practice week before the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, his draft stock rose significantly after showing that he has superior athleticism and very good ball skills. The one unfavorable note in Jenkins' profile is his past character issues stemming from his dismissal from the University of Florida for two Marijuana possession charges in three months and a misdemeanor charge for fighting and fleeing the police in 2009. Historically, the Bengals are a team that does not shy away from character issues and if Jenkins can stay out of trouble he will be an important asset to any team, but if he can't, then we could see Odell Thurman 2.0. The Bengals are lucky because this is a draft replete with top prospects at cornerback (Gilmore, Minnifield, and Boykin to name a few), but Jenkins' speed and ball skills make him stand out a bit more than others.
Brugler's second choice for the Bengals is what sets his mock apart from many others. Where other analysts have the Bengals using these two picks for, at least, an offensive and defensive player, he has the Bengals taking Alabama safety Mark Barron with the 21st pick of the 2012 NFL draft.
With their second pick in the first round, don't be surprised if the Bengals take another defensive back -- especially if Barron is available. The consensus top safety on the board, Barron has the versatile skills to contribute in the box against the run or drop in coverage with his rangy athleticism. He isn't an elite-level prospect, but in a weak safety class, Barron might be the only safety some teams have on their boards in the first two rounds.
Brugler himself admits that Barron doesn't have the highest prospectual value for a safety weak draft class, but his size (6-1, 218) can bring to mind images of Steve Atwater (6-3, 218) running over Christian Okoye and cause any Bengals fan to start salivating over Barron. His size is fantastic, but what makes Barron stand out is his ability to come into the box and help with the run as well as drop into coverage and pass defend. This past year, Barron's stats were not amazing (61 tackles, 2 INT), but I doubt that any defensive player would have outstanding numbers when there are four, possibly five, first round picks on your squad. The Bengals are desperate for a safety that can cover a tight end or slot wide receiver (NOT Chris Crocker) and who can help out in the run game off the edges (again, NOT Chris Crocker). Barron fits well in the Bengals physical system and would be a welcome upgrade to a safety core in need of some youth to play alongside of Reggie Nelson.