Over the last four days, we've been releasing our Bengals position reports (story stream). Naturally, as we discuss the inner workings of the Bengals roster and debate positional strengths and weaknesses, draft talk always follows.
Today, we present to you a more detailed position-by-position look at what the Bengals are looking for in the first round.
Running Back - With only BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Boom Herron under contract this year, the position appears on it's way for a major overhaul. Mock drafts everywhere keep selecting Alabama's Eddie Lacy with the Bengals first pick, so the first round running back debate was a hot topic last week. The Bengals have a horrendous history with picking successful first round running backs, and the league has been overrun with success from late round running backs recently. This upcoming draft is loaded with running back talent in the middle rounds, and why would you spend a first rounder on a running back who will be splitting time?
Personally, I love Eddie Lacy and think he will be very successful in the league. His powerful churning legs and spin moves fit perfectly for an AFC North team that likes to run the ball. This is one of those moments in the draft, though, where it's smarter to be patient and take a player at another position,and wait to get some great value at running back further down the draft road. A speedy gamebreaker like Andre Ellington or Gio Bernard can be found in the second round, where the Bengals have two picks.
Wide Receiver - The Bengals have far more receivers under contract than running backs in 2013. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones each flashed their abilities when they were healthy, and Andrew Hawkins will probably be rejoining the group as well. Add a first-round receiver to that group, and you are looking at arguably one of the most talented wide receiver corps in the league. Perhaps that's a problem, though. Adding a first round receiver severely limits the playing time that Sanu and Jones and Hawkins would get.
Two days ago, the National Football Post mocked the red-hot Quinton Patton to the Bengals. The Louisiana Tech receiver has shot up draft boards recently with an eye-opening performance at the Senior Bowl. Other candidates could be Cordarelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, or Tavon Austin.
The possible departure of Brandon Tate, now an unrestricted free agent, means that the Bengals might be looking for a new return man and backup receiver. Just as it happened when Marvin Jones slipped to the fifth round last year, I think the Bengals will wait until the value is perfect before pulling the trigger on another wide receiver.
Offensive Tackle - Left tackle Andrew Whitworth made the Pro Bowl this year, while Andre Smith performed as well as any right tackle in the league. Unfortunately though, the future is far less comforting. Andrew Whitworth's run-blocking has fallen off a cliff in the past two years, while his pass blocking remains near perfect. Whether it was because of Whitworth's struggles to gain power or Smith's dominance, the Bengals ran directly towards the right tackle 97 times this year, while only 41 times towards Whitworth. Now, Smith is an unrestricted free agent expected to hit big money. If the Bengals struggle to re-sign Smith to a long term contract, they might use the franchise tag, an idea which Pro Football Focus called a 'slam dunk' this morning.
For these reasons, the Bengals may take an offensive tackle in the first round of this year's draft. The 2013 class is loaded with elite prospects like Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, and D.J. Fluker. While the first three might come off the board too early for the Bengals, Fluker might be the perfect fit for the Bengals at pick 21. There's no doubt that the Bengals have legitimately considered swapping one huge Alabama right tackle for another, and Fluker would come at a much cheaper price. This strategy would greatly frustrate me, though. Andre Smith gave the Bengals two years of frustration, one average year, and an elite year in the final year of his contract.. Re-signing the big guy will be hard, but will have an incredibly positive impact on the running game and Andy Dalton.