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2012 NFL Draft: Second Day Safe Picks

Cam Johnson #56 of Virginia pursues Quarterback T.J. Yates #13 of North Carolina during Virginia's win on October 3, 2009.
Cam Johnson #56 of Virginia pursues Quarterback T.J. Yates #13 of North Carolina during Virginia's win on October 3, 2009.

The NFL Draft is now less than two weeks away, which means fans should start to have a good feel with the best prospects in the draft, and especially who the Bengals are likely to select.

Most fans know already know about the more famous prospects like David DeCastro, Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick. But, what about the guys that won't be drafted in the first round? Who are some solid, second and third round picks that will have good, steady NFL careers?

In this article, National Football Post's Wes Bunting breaks down which prospects "seem like the safest bets to come in, contribute and mature into sound long-term starters for whatever NFL team drafts them, after round one". I'll take a brief glimpse at all of the relevant players from his article, starting with:

+Mohammed Sanu: 6'2", 215-pound receiver from Rutgers:

Physically reminds me some of Hakeem Nicks. Isn't as NFL ready, but can go get the football, breakdown and separate on all levels of the field. Looks like a future NFL starter who might need some time, but the talent is most definitely there.

Sanu is a great possession receiver who can be a versatile number two receiver. Personally, I think he would be a very good fit for the Bengals. Because the Bengals have so many other strong receiving options (Green, Gresham, Shipley), Sanu would be able to take the field right away as a rookie and wouldn't be asked to do too much. Sanu's physicality, versatility, and great hands are his strongest assets. Hopefully, he would still be on the board by the time the Bengals second round pick rolls around at pick 53.

+Doug Martin: 5'9", 215-pound running back and return man from Boise State:

Martin isn't a dynamic size/speed back, but there aren't many negatives to his game as a back. He plays fast, runs low, is natural through the line of scrimmage and has a skill set somewhat similar to former Alabama RB Mark Ingram last year. He might fall a bit because he doesn't run overly well, but he has the skill set to start in the league.

I was surprised to find Martin on this list of non-first rounders, because the Bengals are reportedly giving Doug Martin serious consideration as a first round pick . If they don't take him at 21, they may trade picks back to the late first or early second and take him there. As a prospect, Martin is a very well-rounded running back who can do it all, but is a little on the short side. Martin would be rotated on the field often in 2012, and would be the team's clear feature back in the future.

+Kevin Zeitler: 6'4", 315-pound guard from Wisconsin:

A tough, strong in-line guy who you can run behind and also has some coordination on the move. Not as effective in the pass game, but can mature into an average NFL pass blocker if he learns to get off the ball more consistently. Looks like a gritty type starter early on in his NFL career to me.

Zeitler has been a dominating force on the right side of Wisconsin's offensive line for 3 years. He is a technician, a smart and hard-working player who is jokingly referred to as "The Terminator" by teammates. Zeitler is a no-nonsense guy who can really maul people over in the running game, but his pass protection isn't at the NFL level yet. He was been a right guard for 3 years for the Badgers, and would likely start right away at right guard for the Bengals.

+Cam Johnson: 6'4", 270-pound defensive end from Virginia:

A solid college defensive end who has never been much of a sack artist but there are some tools there. Showcases some fluidity in his drop and in coverage and has the ability to mature into a more sudden pass rusher. Will get looks in both a 34 and 43 front.

Johnson is a defensive end prospect with the perfect size and speed to succeed at any level. His biggest knock is that he doesn't seem to put forth 100% effort on every play, which may be because Johnson has sickle cell trait. He is an effective pass-rusher, but he might be limited only to a rotational spot in the NFL. His flashes of talent and athleticism have drawn heavy NFL interest, and he will be taken in the second or third round of the draft. Johnson may be a perfect rotational player for the Bengals to put in at right end, behind Michael Johnson. This Johnson & Johnson duo could play to each other's strengths very well, though Michael might want to step up his effort in the running game in that scenario.

+Casey Hawyard: 5'11", 188-pound cornerback from Vanderbilt:

A smart, productive corner who can consistently make plays on the football. He's not a guy who will consistently hold up in man on the outside in the NFL. However, he's shown the ability to routinely get early jumps on the football and come down with the catch. Looks like one of the safer prospects in the draft as a cover two type guy.

Hayward reminds me of Leon Hall a bit, and the Bengals could take Hayward in the second round to start opposite Leon Hall in a few years. Hayward in an intelligent corner who plays very well in zone coverage, but cannot play man at the NFL level yet. He fears being burnt deep, giving up many easy underneath routes. Hayward has great straight line speed, and could even add on to his bulk to keep up with bigger NFL receivers. As a raw cornerback prospect, he fits the Bengals group of corners well because he could sit on the bench as a rookie. The Bengals have a solid stable of above-average, veteran cornerbacks, but only Leon Hall and Jason Allen are signed past 2012.

+Harrison Smith: 6'2", 214-pound safety from Notre Dame:

Isn't a guy you want to trust to run with receivers down the field. However, because of his solid natural range and instincts, I can see him getting over the top and making plays in a center field type role as an NFL strong safety.

Harrison Smith is an instinctive ball player who could start day 1 if needed. He has exceptional instincts in both run and pass defense, taking great angles, anticipating throws, and has a nose for finding the football. His biggest knock is that he can't cover exceedingly well in man coverage, because he doesn't have the speed or acceleration to make up for small mistakes. With the release of Chris Crocker, the Bengals are in the market for a strong safety (though the team has shown signs of favoring Taylor Mays as the 2012 starter). Harrison could easily be that guy, if he is still on the board by the time the Bengals pick at 53.