SAFETY: Projected as the team's first-round selection this year, the Bengals have done their home work on prospects with first-round grades. Positions identified as "needs" several weeks ago, such as running back and linebacker, have a lower expectancy, but both figure to be addressed at some point this weekend. It all comes down to their draft board and what player is available to them when they're on the clock. Our betting-man mentality says safety in the first round.
RUNNING BACK: Re-signing Bernard Scott shouldn't have disrupted any plans during the draft, especially within the first three rounds. The name that keeps surfacing during predraft reports is North Carolina's Giovani Bernard. However Eddie Lacy is always a possibility, as is Johnathan Franklin. You can't predict Cincinnati's draft board. You can only hope to understand it.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: There's several factors that clouds projected analysis here. Negotiations with Andre Smith are reportedly warming, however he remains unsigned. Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth reminds people that Anthony Collins could do the job. There's a feeling that if the gap between the Bengals and Smith remains significant, Cincinnati could pull the trigger on an offensive tackle in the first round.
Even if Smith is signed, the Bengals may draft someone during the later rounds to assist with the team's depth, perhaps even to give Dennis Roland a run for his money during training camp.
Projected: 1st-2nd / 5th or later
DEFENSIVE END: Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are entering contract years and the stark reality remains that at least one leaves after 2013. Cincinnati could use the franchise tag on Dunlap, but only if Geno Atkins is signed long-term by then. Regardless. Cincinnati could select a defensive end at any point within the first two days as a contingency of someone leaving; preferably someone that could provide an inside rush this season.
LINEBACKER: With James Harrison in the mix, Cincinnati doesn't figure to draft a linebacker within the first three rounds. We still fully expect them to grab someone on Saturday as a special teams contributor. However the revelation that Marvin Lewis expects Thomas Howard back may eliminate the position entirely.
WIDE RECEIVER: Once you get past A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, the Bengals aren't opposed to filling the roster with players to battle out the bottom three spots on the depth chart. Andrew Hawkins and Brandon Tate have an advantage, but neither applied convincing arguments for job security. We could see the Bengals making a shocking first-round selection, but most likely the team will address the position on Friday at the earliest. Don't be surprised if there's more than one either.
TIGHT END: Asked right now and the Bengals are comfortable enough to stick with Jermaine Gresham and Orson Charles as the team's one-two punch in duel-formation. Richard Quinn and Alex Smith will compete for the third spot on the roster, mostly as blocking ends with Smith being more capable as an H-back. Doesn't mean Cincinnati won't grab another through the draft if their board dictates it; but we're not seeing it. If we're projecting, it'll be a late-Saturday selection. Maybe a surprise early selection, but that figures on the belief that Charles isn't a solution as a backup (which we haven't heard or felt).
QUARTERBACK: To compensate for losing Bruce Gradkowski to Pittsburgh, the Bengals signed Josh Johnson and claimed John Skelton off waivers, giving the team a four-man quarterback roster. Johnson and Skelton figure to battle for the backup job this year; though Zac Robinson intends to figure into the argument at some point. The Bengals have ten selections this year and there's a belief that they'll use one of their four picks in the sixth or seventh rounds (combined) on a quarterback to develop as an eventual backup. However the team could just as easily sign a college free agent afterwards and avoid using a selection on a quarterback entirely.
CORNERBACK: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman and Dre Kirkpatrick compose a fairly talented and effective cornerback roster. Cornerback won't be a first round selection and we're not seeing the second or third rounds; though we're open to the idea with Newman aging out of the league. Brandon Ghee and Shaun Prater offer intriguing solutions at the bottom of the roster. However Ghee, Prater and Kirkpatrick hint durability concerns, which could accelerate the team's response during the draft.
Projected: 5th-7th (2nd-3rd possible, but unexpected)