Up to this point, many mock drafts have had the Bengals taking a defensive lineman in the first round, whether a defensive end or a nose tackle. But after signing Michael Johnson and Pat Sims for sensible prices, there's a real chance the Bengals will not significantly address the defensive line in the draft.
Under Marvin Lewis, the team normally keeps five DE and four DT, for a total of nine. The Bengals could very well be content with a group consisting of Carlos Dunlap, Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, and Margus Hunt at DE, and then Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, and Sims at DT. They could still draft a defensive lineman, but I doubt they will draft one in the early rounds. Not necessarily saying that strategy is correct, simply that it's my guess as to what the Bengals will choose to do.
The Bengals have approximately $95 million in cap space for 2015 and 2016 combined, and can clear up over $20 million extra if they want to, so they should be able to re-sign most of their upcoming free agents. But a few of them will be let go (and correctly so), but they will need to be replaced.
After taking the Fanspeak draft simulator for a spin, I came up with this draft.
21. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
Rey Maualuga has only one guaranteed year on his contract, and Vontaze Burfict isn't entirely healthy yet. With the exception of Burfict, the Bengals LB depth screams "mediocre" from top to bottom.
The Bengals would love to take OT La'el Collins of LSU at this pick, but assuming he doesn't fall, then Kendricks might be the choice here. He has the potential to be a star three-down LB. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the late first round to early second round.
53. Nelson Agholor, WR/RS, USC
The Bengals currently have only four NFL-caliber wide receivers on their roster: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and James Wright. If they want to carry six, they'll have to acquire two more. Plus, the first three are all unrestricted free agents after 2015. The Bengals should have no trouble re-signing at least Green and Jones, but there can never be enough playmakers.
Agholor has been a big playmaker at USC on offense and as a return man. He seems to have it all: size, speed, hands, and route-running. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the second round. Joe Goodberry does yeoman's work every year for the draft, and has a strong track record of correctly predicting the success of many prospects. Agholor is his sixth-best WR prospect in the past two years:
Here are my top WR grades of the past two years to see how they compare. pic.twitter.com/TmjHPV39kn— Joe G (@JoeGoodberry) March 22, 2015
85. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
The Bengals have two top-tier starters at offensive tackle for 2015. However, they may let Andre Smith walk after the season. There's also a chance that Andrew Whitworth starts to see a decline.
Ogbuehi, who has played both LT and RT, was projected last year to be a top-10 pick, but he tore his ACL in Texas A&M's bowl game. He could provide depth as a backup, and then be 100% ready for the 2016 season to step in at either tackle position. If the Bengals can't get La'el Collins in the first round, Ogbuehi could be an ideal target in round 3. His stock hasn't fallen for any reason other than injury, and the Bengals don't need an immediate starting OT. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the third round.
99. Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State
All three starting CB (remember, the Bengals use a base nickel defense) are entering unrestricted free agency after 2015: Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, and Leon Hall. For 2016, the Bengals should have no trouble re-signing Kirkpatrick, and can re-sign Jones or have Darqueze Dennard step in. But they still might need a third starter, and will need depth regardless.
If Kirkpatrick and Dennard/Jones are on the outside, then Nelson would be a great fit as the nickel slot CB. His scouting reports show few weaknesses. He's fast, very physical and a refined tackler, and he's a legitimate ball-hawk. If he were bigger, he'd go in round 2. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the late third round to early fourth round.
120. Durell Eskridge, S, Syracuse
Both starting safeties are UFA after 2015. The Bengals should have no trouble re-signing George Iloka, but Reggie Nelson is aging. They can draft a safety to groom for a season and start the following year, as they did with Iloka.
Eskridge is clearly talented in terms of size and speed. Honestly, he reminds a lot of Iloka, a promising safety prospect whose main concern was twitch and hip fluidity. He looks like a good choice to groom for a year and then eventually start at free safety. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the fourth round.
135. Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame
My instinct tells me that the Bengals will re-sign Jermaine Gresham sometime before the draft. But until that actually happens, they are projected to take a TE in the mid-rounds to serve as a backup to Tyler Eifert.
Koyack is a big, strong TE who blocks well and has good hands. His main detraction is that he has just two catches for more than 25 yards in his career, and is more of a short-range and mid-range receiver than a big-play threat, though Notre Dame's QB play didn't exactly help. I could envision him with the Bengals as a solid blocker who is limited to safer routes, like Gresham. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the fourth round.
157. Kenny Bell, WR/RS, Nebraska
Again, the Bengals need to acquire two new wide receivers if they want to carry six total.
Bell is essentially a poor man's Agholor, someone with good size and speed who is a big-play threat both on offense and as a return specialist. NFL Draft Scout projects him in the fourth round, but with so many other receivers ahead of him, he might drop. He's another favorite WR prospect of Goodberry's:
Dang, Kenny Bell. https://t.co/pCDwiwJNBo— Joe G (@JoeGoodberry) March 25, 2015
196. Leterrius Walton, DT, Central Michigan
I don't believe the Bengals will significantly address the defensive line in the draft, but they may take one player for depth purposes. A Bengals draft is rarely complete without the selection of a D-line project.
Walton's draft grades are mixed. Sources that value his physical upside have him as high as round 4, and sources that see him as raw have dropped him to round 7. If his value lands somewhere in the middle, then the Bengals might take him.
238. Greg Mancz, C/OG, Toledo
Russell Bodine doesn't currently have a backup, and the Bengals could use some interior OL depth.
Mancz, a Cincinnati native, has played C, LG, RG, and RT in his college career, mainly C and RG. NFL Draft Scout projects him in round 6 or 7. The Bengals have already interviewed him. They should have no problem re-signing Kevin Zeitler, so drafting Mancz would be for backup purposes only.