The Bengals' goal is theoretically to win a Super Bowl, or at least to win a playoff game. All five units of the roster should be in good-enough shape for that to happen.
Three of the units are in good-enough shape. The Bengals special teams are solid. They also had one of the best secondaries in the league last year, which may get even better as Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and George Iloka enter their prime. The Bengals had one of the best running games in the league last year, which may get even better as Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Ryan Hewitt, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, and Kevin Zeitler enter their prime, not to mention Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are already in their prime.
The two units that are not currently in good-enough shape are the defensive front-seven and the offensive passing game. Therefore, those should be the Bengals' top two priorities in the draft. The front-seven simply doesn't have the personnel it requires, and needs some upgrading. The passing game falls short in large part due to Andy Dalton's struggles, but he should be given the best offensive weapons possible in order to help him improve and succeed. The secondary and OT are priorities, but not the top priorities.
Looking at the Cincy Jungle threads, there were a few comments disliking the possibility that the Bengals use a first-round pick on an offensive tackle.
Two comments were posted here by CJ user "Pete Rose Jr", in an article predicting the Bengals could draft Stanford OT Andrus Peat:
I'd like to see us use the #1 pick on a guy we expect to start/contribute HEAVILY in his rookie year
The OTHER 6 rounds can be used to address future needs IMO.
I used to think that a DT was a no-brainer. Now that we’ve signed all the usual suspects back, maybe we don’t go that way. I still believe DT is the weakest link on the team. Maybe it’s LB since Burfict’s status is unknown.
Of course it matters how the picks fall
I think there are 3 DTs worth the 21 pick.
If they aren’t there, you can either draft another dude you like or trade back (or trade up if you want to ensure getting one).
I just don’t like the logic of drafting a 1st rounder because you think you’ll lose someone to free agency NEXT year.
Other comments were posted here by CJ users "bull bergey" and "Rey Maualuga's Agent", in an article predicting the Bengals could draft Miami OT Ereck Flowers:
It's stylish to draft for the future but I want a playoff win or 2 -- NOW!!
For a team that annually loses the wildcard game I would think the 1st round pick should be one that can make an immediate impact by either scoring or takeways.
Here's hoping we draft someone that can get on the field and give us an immediate edge.
The Bengals should not take an OT [in the first round] this year when the class is very inconsistent and they have actual significant draft needs.
Whitworth and Smith are entrenched as the Bengals two starters at offensive tackle. Eric Winston, who filled in admirably last year, is the primary swing tackle backup. A drafted offensive tackle would likely be benched for most of the season and not receive a start. For a team that should be in win-now mode, drafting purely for the future in Round 1 is kind of a disappointment.
There are two consensus elite prospects at OT, Iowa's Brandon Scherff and LSU's La'el Collins. But chances are that neither will fall to the Bengals. That leaves the likes of Peat and Flowers, as well as Pitt's T.J. Clemmings, Oregon's Jake Fisher, and Florida's D.J. Humphries. Assuming Scherff and Collins don't miraculously fall, are any of these other offensive tackles truly compelling to spend the 21st overall pick on? Not really.
The Bengals already have two very good starting offensive tackles. Whitworth is showing no signs of slowing down and was the best left tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Though Smith has been injury-prone, he was the best right tackle in the NFL in 2012, according to PFF. Both are arguably top-five players at their respective positions. According to Over The Cap, the Bengals have about $90 million in cap space for 2015 and 2016. If they want to, they will be able to re-sign both of their highly-rated offensive tackles, and most everyone else too.
But let's say that the Bengals keep Whitworth only, and allow Smith to walk. That may not be bad, since Smith has been injury-prone. For 2015, there is plenty of mid-round OT depth such as Colorado State's Ty Sambrailo, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, Oklahoma's Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, Penn State's Donovan Smith, and Wisconsin's Rob Havenstein. These Round 3-4 OT prospects appear perfectly capable of being groomed for a year and taking over at RT in case Andre Smith is let go. Good right tackles can be found beyond the first round. The Bengals have no shortage of draft picks in that range.
There are players at the right value for #21 who could contribute immediately, and potentially start later in the season. These include Texas NT Malcom Brown, UK DE Bud Dupree, and UCLA LB Eric Kendricks. There are multiple highly-rated front-seven prospects projected close to the 21st overall pick, who would be immediate impact players and would give the Bengals the best chance of winning now. They could very well be BPA picks too. If an elite WR prospect like Louisville's DeVante Parker happens to fall, then he would also be an immediate impact player.
The top LB group of Kendricks, Benardrick McKinney, Stephone Anthony, Paul Dawson, and Denzel Perryman is valued for the first two rounds. There's a chance that no top LB will last to the Bengals' pick relatively late in the second round. After that, there's a talent drop-off, and a very limited number of 4-3 linebackers better than Round 5, not more than a few. After the top NT group of Brown, Danny Shelton, Eddie Goldman, Jordan Phillips, and Carl Davis that is valued for the first two rounds, there's a sharp decrease in talent to those valued in Round 5 and later.
Unlike right tackle, the linebacker and nose tackle positions this year do NOT have good depth extending to the mid-rounds. Taking a LB or NT in Rounds 3-4 could mean reaching for a prospect whose actual value is that of Round 5 or later. Anyone who has conducted draft simulations on Fanspeak has experienced this.
Drafting a non-elite OT at pick #21, benching him for a year, and then moving him to RT in 2016 -- while passing on Malcom Brown, Bud Dupree, or Eric Kendricks -- seems like a bad idea. It sounds like a repeat of the Raiders passing on Kiko Alonso to take Menelik Watson in the 2013 draft. Alonso soon became a defensive star on the Bills, while Watson was inactive for most of the season before transitioning to RT in 2014. Watson isn't a bad player, but the Raiders whiffed by not selecting the game-changing player. For what it's worth, Eric Kendricks has drawn comparisons to Kiko Alonso, since both are versatile, athletic, playmaking linebackers from the Pac-12.
In summary, though the Bengals should draft an OT later, they should not take one in the first round unless there are no highly-rated immediate impact players left. Andy Dalton can realistically be cut as soon as the 2015 season ends and Marvin Lewis' contract is up after 2015. But until then, the Bengals should do whatever they can to help Dalton and Lewis win now, by adding game-changing players to the passing game and the front-seven. Drafting a player and sitting him on the bench does not help the team win now.