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Bengals Hue Jackson prefers speed over size when scouting wide receivers

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When Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson scouts his players, he's looking for speed this year. While size helps you make contested catches, speed helps with separation -- and that's something the Bengals desperately needed this year.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals could be in the market for a speedy receiver who can vertically threaten the opposing defense. Let's recall that the last time we watched Cincinnati in the playoffs. Receivers struggled to break away from their defenders and the vertical threat was hilariously nonexistent -- which allowed the Colts to compress Andy Dalton's goldilocks zone within 10 yards. (Disclaimer: Because staunch defenders will complain about the use of "goldilocks", it's not. And yes, we're at a point now where we have to write disclaimers). Dalton went a pedestrian 18 of 35 for 155 yards passing with a passer rating of 63.4.

If you're judging the Bengals' roster following their 26-10 playoff loss to the Colts, it could lead to severe psychosis. Marvin Jones, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert were out. Mohamed Sanu may have celebrated several career highs this season (which isn't all THAT difficult for a third-year player) but he essentially disappeared in the second half of the season. Jermaine Gresham's routes were notoriously short, especially on third down... forcing him to fight for more yardage that lead to nervousness and careless ballhandling.

Regardless, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is looking at his options in Mobile, Alabama, where prospects have gathered to stage an exhibition game with 32 professional teams looking restock their ranks. And if Jackson values anything, it's speed over size. Per Bengals.com:

"The biggest threat is vertical speed, not size," Jackson said as he watched Smith and the rest of the North on Thursday. "If I’m faster than you, but you’re taller than me, I’m eventually going to find a way to get away from you. There are guys that make contested catches, but the common thread for success is speed.

"You’re not going to get open all the time, so you have to make contested catches. But you also have to be able to create separation so the quarterback can feel comfortable throwing it in there."

Jackson’s idea of a speed receiver is the current biggest Bengals killer not in captivity, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown as he comes off a monster season in which he bedeviled Cincinnati twice in the December losses to Pittsburgh with big catches and a punt return touchdown. Jackson admires the 5-10, 180-pound Brown for not only his speed, but his toughness and strength.

Ohio State Buckeyes receiver Devin Smith is a combination of both. Standing more than six feet tall with the type of speed that could change the momentum of games, Smith averaged 28.2 yards per catch (33 receptions, 931 yards receiving) during his senior season with 12 touchdowns scored. He dominated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game with 137 yards receiving and three touchdowns, helping the Buckeyes to crush the Badgers 59-0 -- a needed display to convince the powers-that-be to give Ohio State the final seed in the College Football Playoffs. Smith totaled 132 yards in the playoffs, scoring a touchdown against Alabama.

Smith compares himself to Philadelphia Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin. "How smooth he is when he runs routes, it kind of reminds me of myself a little bit with how natural it looks," Smith said via kcchiefs.com.

The Baltimore Ravens have also been showing interest in Smith this week. Per the Baltimore Sun:

Smith talked with the Ravens this week and characterized it as a productive meeting.

"It went really well," Smith said. "They showed a lot of interest. They liked the things I did on the football field."

...

Smith runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.3 seconds. He finished his career with 121 receptions for 2,503 yards and 30 touchdowns. He averaged 37.9 yards per score, and Ohio State went 22-0 in games where he caught a touchdown pass.