Prior to the 2014 NFL Combine, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, was the flavor of mock drafts for CBS Sports for Cincinnati's spot in the 2014 NFL draft. Ten days later, after running a 4.37 40-yarder (without any pads), a 35-5-inch vert and 10-foot-6 broad jump, he's advancing towards the top-ten.
+ Pete Prisco moved Gilbert to No. 10 with the Detroit Lions, electing to give Cincinnati Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller at No. 2 - the third cornerback selected.
The Bengals have to get better and younger at corner and Fuller has the size and speed.
Gilbert was a big winner at the NFL Combine this week with the fastest 40-time among defensive backs.
"He looked fluid in his transitions and turns while also exhibiting a quick and efficient backpedal," Bucky Brooks wrote via NFL.com. "Gilbert flashes natural hands and awareness tracking balls down the field, validating his reputation as a playmaker. With teams desperately seeking big, athletic corners with ball skills, Gilbert will enter the conversation as a top-10 talent."
+ Cornerback wasn't necessarily selected by all of the post-combine mock drafts. Rob Rang, via NFLDraftScout.com, selects Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Since signing with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent, Vontaze Burfict has become a verifiable star but the production hasn't been nearly as impressive for middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and former Pittsburgh Steelers' standout James Harrison. Shazier plays with a similar brand of ferocity as Burfict but is more athletic, potentially providing the Bengals with the versatility to play any of the linebacker roles in their 4-3 alignment.
The argument, at least to me, is sound. Maualuga and Harrison are also entering the final year of their respective deals and, based on their 2013 performances, are replaceable. Allowing Shazier to ease into the starting lineup would be appropriate to the team's historical uses of the NFL draft -- though save for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, most recent first round selections are day one starters.
+ Dane Brugler, also a contributor at NFLDraftScout.com, goes with Missouri Kony Ealy.
With Michael Johnson likely leaving Cincinnati via free agency, Margus Hunt is the projected starter at defensive end, but a team can't have too many pass rushers. Ealy is nimble for his size and has the tools to be a productive pro.
Again, another sound argument, but there are two factors weighing against defensive end: 1) With the rising cap and various reports that the Bengals will try to re-sign him, Johnson leaving isn't a foregone conclusion (though we agree, it still feels more likely than not) and 2) Players entering their second season usually experience a significant jump in the NFL, further spearheaded with Paul Guenther's plan to work individually with Margus Hunt to advance his development.
In the end, the Bengals will apply a best player philosophy, picking the prospect that's at the top of their board when they're on the clock at No. 24.