Shortly after the 2012 season ended for the Bengals, I posted a pre-Combine, three-round mock draft for the team that chronicled the four picks that they have in those first rounds of this April's NFL Draft. Cincinnati has four picks within the first four rounds, thanks to the Carson Palmer trade from 2011 and they will undoubtedly look to use that No.37 overall pick on a player who could make an immediate impact. In case you missed it, here is who I had them taking:
Pick 21: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Pick 37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Pick 53: Robert Woods, WR, USC
Pick 84: Baccari Rambo, S, UGA
Now that the "Underwear Olympics" are over, it's time to take another crack at what I see the team doing in two months. Let's keep two things in mind here, shall we? First, while I'm operating under some assumptions with free agency and what the Bengals will do, this is going to change again after the team makes moves in the next few weeks. The Bengals have now used their franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, so it seems unlikely that they'll go for that position high in the draft. They might be more active in free agency than we think, or they might just plod along with the "you win some, you lose some" mentality. We just don't know and won't have much of an idea until about two weeks from now.
Secondly, this isn't solely based on what I hope happens, but rather a blend of my preferences, trends that the team has shown over recent drafts and positions of need. While I have my biases, I try to blend that in with the other nuances I mentioned to come up with my formula. I've changed my stance a little and some of the picks have changed. The offense needs some help at the skill positions and there are some potential glaring holes on defense, especially if free agency has the team cutting some of the older players on that side of the ball.
Let's get to it.
Round One, Pick 21--Arthur Brown, Linebacker, Kansas State: Though there are some concerns with Brown's shoulder, he's a solid pick at this point in the first round. The coaching staff has to love Brown's versatility and willingness to play any linebacker position at the next level. Brown would bring solid coverage ability, speed and tackling skills to the position--something that the group sorely needs. He's a little on the small side, but Brown could be a plug-and-play guy at either outside position. Even if the team were to re-sign Thomas Howard and/or Rey Maualuga, it's likely that the team could be losing at least Manny Lawson in free agency, so bringing in Brown makes sense. He's also proven to be quite a bit more reliable off of the field than fellow linebacker, Alec Ogletree, and the guys that the Bengals have taken chances on because of character over the years aren't usually in the first round.
Round Two, Pick 37--DeAndre Hopkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson: There seems to be one of these types of guys every year, doesn't there? A big, physical guy that comes with some questions from their college tape, but lights up the Combine. Hopkins does have a much sturdier college resume than the likes of Stephen Hill, Jonathan Baldwin, and Demaryius Thomas, but doesn't have as big of a build. At 6'1 and 215 pounds, Hopkins displayed the ability to make tough catches across the middle and break some big plays in 2012 with his yards-per-reception average at 17.1 and set the ACC record for single-season touchdown receptions with 18.
The prior years, Hopkins seemed to be a bit more of a possession guy, but he became an all-around threat last season. The Bengals need someone stable across from A.J. Green and while they have two promising guys at the position that they drafted last season in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, having a guy like Hopkins would definitely bolster the corps. It's also important to note that it isn't looking like the team will retain Brandon Tate and Andrew Hawkins is a exclusive rights free agent, so there is likely to be at least one spot open.
Round Two, Pick 53--Johnathan Franklin, Running Back, UCLA: What a senior season Franklin had. He was a huge reason for the Bruins' turnaround in 2012, racking up over 1,700 yards rushing, a 6.1 yards per carry average, and 13 rushing touchdowns. He also contributed heavily in the passing game with 33 receptions for 323 yards and two more touchdowns there. Franklin had some fumbling issues early in his career, but some solid coaching from Jim Mora, Jr. helped to remedy that last season and called the running back one of the greatest people he's ever coached. If that isn't enough, Franklin says his goal is to become the mayor of Los Angeles someday and has his sights set on that after his NFL career is finished.
Good production and character aside, Franklin also had a good weekend at the Combine, running a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, putting up 18 reps on the bench and performing well in the 60-shuttle. He would be a nice "lightning" to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' "thunder" and would bring some much-needed playmaking ability to the offense--particularly with his ability to catch the football. There is sure to be a run on this position in the second round, so this seems like good value here.
Round Three, Pick 84--D.J. Swearinger, Safety, South Carolina: There are some that won't agree with taking a safety this low and might not be enamored with Swearinger overall as a prospect. Opinions are mixed on the former Gamecock, where some have him tabbed as a solid second round guy, while others believe he is more of a third to fifth round guy. Let's look at some facts to consider: first, the Bengals haven't traditionally valued this position that highly, with Madieu Williams being the highest-drafted safety in the Marvin Lewis era, which was in the second round (56th overall). Secondly, the team hasn't used a first round pick on a safety since Darryl Williams back in 1992, and they had two first rounders that year. Thirdly, the team is still apparently searching for ways to integrate Taylor Mays at the position, so he appears to be sticking around for 2013. Lastly, the team set up a formal interview with Swearinger at the Combine, showing that they are at least somewhat interested in him.
As for Swearinger himself, he's a physical guy who isn't afraid to make a tackle and has decent size for the position at 5'11" and 210 pounds. He has also played both free and strong safety in college, which is something that the Bengals have to like about him because they love versatile guys at the position. If you're worried about durability with Swearinger, he only missed one game in his four-year college career and that was due to a suspension he received from an illegal hit. Our own Joe Goodberry has him as his third-best safety prospect behind Kenny Vaccaro of Texas and Jonathan Cyprien of Florida International, but some teams may favor Swearinger's SEC rivals of Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) over him and could push him to this area of the draft. For instance, contrary to Goodberry's rankings, the NFL Network's draft analyst, Mike Mayock, doesn't even have Swearinger in his top five at the position. Still, this would be a good spot for the Bengals grabbing him.