Just as it is with the Bengals and the running back position this year, their secondary could use a lot of revamping. With Leon Hall nursing an Achilles injury (though his rehab is going well), both Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings entering free agency, and Nate Clements getting a year older, the need for able-bodied players here is glaring. Also like running back, the Bengals could look to add two or more corners via free agency and/or the draft.
Many mock drafts that we've posted here at Cincy Jungle have the Bengals taking a cornerback in the first round, with Janoris Jenkins, Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore being the usual suspects. Even if the Bengals take one of these players with a first round pick, they still could look to add another solid player shortly after the first round to add to the group. As we've been hearing over the past two years, the NFL is a passing league now, and you can never have enough good cornerbacks.
Enter Vanderbilt University's Casey Hayward.
Though Vanderbilt isn't known as a college football powerhouse, Hayward made a name for himself this season and into the Senior Bowl. If you watched the game last month that took place in Mobile, Alabama, you would have noticed Hayward flying around and making tackles and knocking passes away. It was a week that really helped his stock and solidified his status as a player who will likely be drafted in the second or third round in April.
Hayward isn't a superior athlete compared to many of the other cornerbacks coming out this year. At Tuesday's Combine workout, he posted a 4.57 40-yard dash time, which placed him at the middle to bottom portion of the crop. He was also average in the broad jump and vertical jump, being outperformed by many of the bigger names in the position pool. All in all, it wasn't an overly impressive performance by Hayward in Indianapolis.
Where he does excel is in the areas of strength, tackling and instincts. Having good size for the position is becoming a must in the NFL, and at 5'11" and 190 pounds, Hayward has that. He also put up 225 pounds 19 times on Tuesday, which was one of the more impressive showings on the day for the cornerback group. He showcased his physicality and instincts throughout the 2011 season, racking up seven interceptions and 62 total tackles on the year. Though he has good size, that doesn't mean that he's not fleet of foot--he put up one of the best shuttle times by a corner since 2006 on Tuesday. He really seemed to shine on the big stage as well, as he had two interceptions against the University of Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl, as well as building on that performance by making a name for himself in Mobile.
Though he isn't going to blow anyone away with his workout times, he's a "tape player", and our own Joe Goodberry labels him a "gamer". Given his size, willingness to tackle, as well as his playmaking ability, he fits the Marvin Lewis/Mike Zimmer mold of a cornerback that they usually covet. His strength is man coverage, which Zimmer also likes in his corners, and Hayward could become a very good No. 2 or nickel corner at the NFL level. Whether or not they take a corner ahead of him, Hayward, the "Poor Man's Leon Hall", could be a player they look at in the second or third round.