The NFL Draft is finally upon us, and that means the end of mock drafting. Here is one final crack at playing pretend GM and picking the nine players I think the Bengals should select in this year's draft.
1st Round, Pick No. 24: Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
While Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are widely regarded as the top safety prospects, Jimmie Ward could end up being the best one to come out of this class. He's physical and wraps-up ball-carriers well enough they he could be a solid strong safety, but he also has the field awareness and overall speed to get from sideline-to-sideline and play free safety.
That kind of versatility makes him an ideal fit for the Bengals, who are lacking depth at both safety spots, and can also play nickle cornerback.
Ward was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe award as a senior, as he lead the Huskies in tackles again after doing the same in 2012. He led NIU this year in not only tackles (95) but also interceptions (7) and passes defended (14).
Ward is the ball-hawk this aging defense needs, especially if he can make more plays like this:
He comes in and plays a similar role as to what Chris Crocker played last year, and could end up taking George Iloka's spot as the starting strong safety, though he projects as a better free safety.
2nd Round, Pick No. 55: Jack Mewhort, OL, Ohio State
The 6’6 tackle has what the Bengals value: Experience and the ability to play four positions on the offensive line.
A strong run-blocker, Mewhort helped pave the way for an OSU rushing attack that gained 242 yards per game, which ranked 10th in the country.
He played in 49 career games at Ohio State, including 39 consecutive starts to close his career. An All-American center coming out of high school, Mewhort started at both left guard and right guard in 2011 before starting his final two collegiate seasons at left tackle, and then played right tackle at the Senior Bowl.
With Anthony Collins departing in free agency, not having a solid swing tackle could become an issue if one of the tackles were to go down. Mewhort could would be a valuable backup and possibly a starting tackle in 2016 when both Andrew Wthitworth and Andre Smith's contracts expire.
3rd Round, Pick No. 88: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
The Bengals surprisingly don't draft a cornerback until the 3rd round, but they get a quality player in Marcus Roberson.
However, injuries and a drop-off in his production in 2013 hurt his stock to the point where he's now fallen into the Bengals' lap in the third round.
Roberson suffered a PCL injury that cost him four games, and a late-season suspension caused his stock to fall lower than it probably should be.
That is, if Roberson can get healthy and play more like he did 2012 when he finished second in the SEC with 14 passes defensed and was named to the All-SEC Second Team in 2012 by the AP.
Roberson needs a year to develop behind Hall, Jones and Newman, but he'll eventually become a starting-caliber corner.
4th Round, Pick No. 123: Nevin Lawson, Cornerback, Utah State
Lawson was named first-team All-Mountain West as he helped Utah State's defense rank first in the Mountain West and seventh in the nation with just 17.3 points allowed per game this past year.
He ranked third in the Mountain West and tied for 19th in the nation in passes defended (13), as well as registering 53 tackles and lead the team with four interceptions to go along with five tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
He plays the ball very well and is a solid tackler in run defense. He uses his height as an advantage in getting low and wrapping up ball-carrier's legs to bring them down. .He'll even blitz off the edge at times,
He can play press-man, but back in off-coverage is where he thrives most:
Undersized but not over-matched, Lawson stood-out during Senior Bowl practices and should develop into a quality corner in the NFL. He's actually be more NFL-ready than Roberson and thus may get more playing time as a rookie.
5th Round, Pick No. 164: Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State
The 5-foot-8, 173-pound ball of fire set a KSU single-season record with 23 touchdowns and was named Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year and first-team All-MAC as a running back and kick returner in 2012. Slowed by an injured ankle as a senior, Archer scored 11 touchdowns and was named third-team All-MAC as a receiver and a kick returner.
Archer could play either running back or receiver in the NFL, though he was grouped with the backs for the NFL Scouting Combine. There, his 38-inch vertical jump tied for fourth at the position. He also bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times and posted a 122-inch broad jump.
He would go a lot higher had it not been for some nagging injuries as a senior and the Bengals get one of the biggest steals of the drat here.
6th Round, Pick No. 199: Antone Exum, CB/S, Virginia Tech
The Bengals would like to boost their cornerback and safety depth, and they can kill two birds with one stone by nabbing Exum.
He was projected to be one of the top cornerbacks in college football coming into the 2013 season, but he tore his ACL in the offseason while playing in a pickup basketball game.
Exum missed the first seven games of 2013 while returning from ACL surgery and then missed the last three with an ankle injury. Though his final year of college was marred with injuries, Exum is a quality player capable of making an impact at the NFL level.
Exum has nice size (6'0", 213 lbs) and versatility after playing both safety and corner for the Hokies. Like Ward at the top of the draft, the Bengals find another versatile DB who can play multiple positions.
Prior to missing most of his senior season, Exum had accounted for 182 tackles (8 TFLs), 6 INTs, 41 pass deflections and 5 forced fumbles.
With the Bengals, he'll try to play corner at first, but could eventually convert to strong safety. He could also play the Taylor Mays-role of hybrid safety/linebacker. He's certainly physical enough too.
6th Round, Pick No. 212 (Compensatory): Jalen Saunders, Wide Reliever, Oklahoma
Sanders weighs in at a mere 5'8" and 164 pounds. due to his small frame and lack of a consistent QB this past year, he's almost guaranteed to get drafted lower than where he should be.
Saunders started all 13 games in 2013, totaling 61 catches for 729 yards (12.0) and 8 scores. He also returned was an electric returner with 31 career punts for 465 yards (15.0), including three scores.
Give him a 1-2 years in an NFL weight-room and time to develop and he could become a quality player, and he could make an immediate impact with the Bengals as punt returner.
7th Round, Pick No. 239 Overall: Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri
Sam is the reigning SEC defensive player of the year, as he terrorized opposing quarterbacks this past year. He racked up an SEC-leading 19 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.
At 6'2" and 260 pounds, Sam is a little bit undersized for the defensive end position, but he can be a good nickle-rusher on passing downs. He could also potentially be converted into a SAM backer.
Either way, Sam is a quality pass-rusher with a great motor who the Bengals will find a way to get on the field.
7th Round, Pick No. 252 (Compensatory): Marquis Flowers, OLB, Arizona
Flowers was a two-year starter at linebacker who reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 at his Pro Day and is described as a "Kam Chancellor-type linebacker turned safety."
This past season, Flowers registered 93 tackles and 11 tackles for loss to go with one sack, a pair of fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown.
He made a lot more noise in 2012 with 100 stops and 13 TFLs to go with 5.5 sacks. Flowers also forced three fumbles and recovered one, intercepted three passes (returned one for a TD) and broke up three passes.
He played exclusively at safety as a backup in 2011 before moving to LB full-time in '12, where he's played and started for the past two seasons.
At worst, Flowers can be a solid special-teams player, and at this point in the draft, that's the goal of some teams with their final pick .