Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals threw everyone not named Dave Lapham a curveball in the first round of the NFL Draft with the selection of tight end Tyler Eifert. Even though it seemed as if the Bengals didn't need another tight end and that Eifert was under-utilized in 2013, he still managed to be a contributor to a top-ten offensive unit. It's likely that he will have an increased role in 2014, but that has yet to be seen.
In case you missed it, Bengals.com editor, Cincy Jungle and Inside the Jungle friend, Geoff Hobson, mocked Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the team at No.24 overall. In case you're unfamiliar with Cooks, he has had two uber-productive years with the Beavers, culminating with the receipt of the Nation's award for the top receiver in college football, the Biletnikoff Award.
Since he is small (5'9", 190), Cooks was slated as a second or third round guy in very early months of the pre-draft process. But, thanks to an incredible Combine workout, Cooks forced coaches and scouts to go back and look harder at his tape. The result? A late first round grade. Former NFLer and current SB Nation writer recently did a fantastic breakdown of Cooks' game and one can easily see the talent there.
This post is not one that will continue to analyze Cooks' game, but rather examining the logic of Hobson's selection. On paper, there are a handful of needs for the Bengals--interior offensive line, defensive end and cornerback being the top of the list--but wide receiver doesn't seem to fit that list. With Pro Bowler A.J. Green in the fold through 2015 and Marvin Jones emerging nicely in his second season, the other above-mentioned needs seem more pressing.
However, there are some needs that Cooks fills immediately, while also potentially fulfilling the "Best Player Available" designation.
Cooks Helps To Heal A Void In The Slot:
Here's where the Dane Sanzenbacher lovers of the world come at me. I like No.11, but it's difficult to put a ton of stock in a guy to fill a big role when he had exactly six catches last season. Though Cooks is an unknown because he is an incoming rookie, his skill set seems to jump off of the screen much more than Sanzenbacher.
Say what you want about the production of Andrew Hawkins last year, but a healthy "Baby Hawk" will be missed. Look back at Hawkins' 2012 campaign--particularly the first half of the season. In his final two seasons at Oregon State, Cooks showed the ability to help the Bengals remedy the Hawkins loss. His 4.38 speed, as well as his 195 catches and 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons could make him a lethal player in the slot for the Bengals.
Versatility A Plus:
While Cooks would definitely solve a problem in the slot, he can also play on the outside with his speed. He did a little bit of both in Corvallis and it paid off big-time. We have long-known that the Bengals love versatile players and Cooks' ability helps here.
He also was a threat out of the backfield running the football, like Hawkins was at times, galloping for 217 yards and two touchdowns last year. This makes Cooks valuable on end-around and reverse plays and could inject a little life in the running game directly out of the backfield, if needed.
Added Value On Special Teams?:
Admittedly, Cooks' short resume as a punt returner isn't all that impressive. With only 72 yards and a four-yard return average to his name in 2013, it's almost a complete non-factor. However, there was a 41-yarder in there and the sample size is small with only 18 returns, which is exactly half of what Brandon Tate had last season.
Bengals fans bashing Tate becomes a weekly, if not daily occurrence in the fall and if Cooks can continue to develop this part of his game (last year was the first season he did it), it could be just icing on the cake with this kid. If Tate is ineffective and/or the coaches are reluctant to through an aging Adam Jones from a withered group of corners out there for a spell, it could become a welcomed sight.
The loss of Hawkins also brings a major loss in punt return coverage. Baby Hawk was a gunner on the outside and was downright incredible at making plays in that respect, given his size. With Cooks' comparable straight-line speed, the coaches may want to see if Cooks can help ease that loss as well.
Will He Be The Bengals' Guy?:
I have no idea. Starting last year and into this one, the Cincinnati Bengals have become a draft enigma in every positive sense of the phrase. For those of you who have been fans of this team through "The Lost Decade", you know how crazy of a statement that is. However, since the Bengals have re-built their roster to have the necessary depth, their formula seems to be to take a player that is a blend of need and best available option. Cooks could fit that bill, depending how the board falls.
Yes, fans think that corner, offensive line, defensive end, linebacker and maybe even running back and/or quarterback are bigger needs. There is validity in that sentiment, but the question lies in if the Bengals front office feels the same way. Last year, I wrote a pre-draft piece examining the value of the Bengals using a "high pick" on a tight end. At the time, the majority of the readers slammed me. How quickly opinions changed once Eifert became a Bengal. The lesson, Bengals fans? Keep an open mind this time of year.
The mantra in the Andy Dalton era has been to surround him with as much talent as possible to cover up some perceived shortcomings. It's a passing league and if the Bengals truly are hell-bent on keeping Dalton as their quarterback, giving him another security blanket could be the wisest decision based on how the board falls. Cooks would be a great addition to a borderline explosive offense, which has been the one of the cruxes of recent playoff disappointment. The best choice at No.24, though? We'll see.