We take a look at the team as it's currently structured in anticipation of figuring the team's chances of drafting certain positions. The four-part series will be broken down from major needs (expected first three picks), positions to be addressed, possible selections and positions that won't be addressed. We start with major needs.
SAFETY: It's clear that the Cincinnati Bengals need help at safety. Based on the yawning attempt to grab someone during free agency, the Bengals figure to address the position with a foundation-type player during the 2013 NFL draft. However with prospects like Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien, D.J. Swearinger, Bacarri Rambo and Matt Elam, the Bengals won't be forced to select a safety in the first round. We figure there will be an application of best-play-available due to availability of several top safeties and necessities at other spots.
As it stands right now, Reggie Nelson leads a group of young and inexperienced players, most of whom were acquired as late-round picks, undrafted free agents or through a trade using a seventh-round pick. Beyond players that could significantly contribute on special teams, there's nothing there for Mike Zimmer to work with.
That being said we believe that Taylor Mays will be granted another opportunity, but how serious is in doubt. There's a scenario that could emerge with Mays starting the season, but having his playing time squeezed as a safety selected within the first three rounds would ease into the role. On the other hand if a rookie comes out firing during training camp, it could mean another rookie turned starter by week one -- a trend that the Bengals stopped resisting in 2011.
LINEBACKER: If safety is major need 1A, then linebacker is 1B. They're interchangeable and applies to the best-player-available philosophy with safety. If their chart has a linebacker listed above available safeties at No. 21, they'll probably pull the trigger and use their second selection on a defensive back. Whether it's an outside linebacker or inside, we're not sure.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has deflected observations that Cincinnati will move Vontaze Burfict inside, while shifting Rey Maualuga back to SAM. That leaves WILL wide open. If Maualuga remains in the middle, keeping Burfict at WILL, then SAM is wide open with undrafted free agents, the constantly injured or former first-round picks labeled as a major bust are the contestants.
What Cincinnati does here goes a long way to show their hand in regards to Burfict and Maualuga. Perhaps they don't even know yet.
RUNNING BACK: Most experts question if there's even a running back worth a first-round selection this year. Our early prognostication is that Cincinnati goes safety and linebacker with their No. 21 and No. 37 picks respectively. Yet we fully expect to have a new running back by end of the third round.
Cincinnati made half-hearted overtures for Brian Leonard replacements through free agency, but leaving the position unsettled for now. At this point we see the Bengals possibly drafting two running backs in the draft, the first being the "two" in the one-two punch with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The second would be a third-down back with decent hands and a history of blocking well in pass protection schemes. Could that be Cedric Peerman or Daniel Herron instead? Possibly.
Either way the Bengals will have a running back that will figure into the team's major game plan on offense.