The Bengals surprised a lot of people with the way they went about this year’s draft. Although they utilized some questionable strategies, they filled needs and found plenty of steals throughout the seven rounds.
First Round Confusion
In terms of value, the Bengals could have done much better with this pick. The Cardinals' attempt to trade up with the Bengals for Bud Dupree has been well documented, but it is also worth remembering that the Broncos traded up five spots with the Lions for Shane Ray, and the Bengals likely could have shopped their pick to them as well.
However, in terms of talent and need, the Bengals picked the guy they wanted, and that's what matters. The Bengals saw in Ogbuehi a great athlete with unbeatable technique who was worthy of a first round selection. They also found an offensive tackle who allows the team leverage in negotiations with the aging Andrew Whitworth, and the embattled Andre Smith. If he recovers from his injury in a timely manner, Ogbuehi could be a major anchoring influence for the next generation of Bengals.
Second Round, Same as the First
Had the Bengals not taken Ogbuehi in the first round, the selection of Jake Fisher in the second round would look like a unanimous home run. Although, the Bengals' strategy is understandable, if a bit confusing. With the issues stemming from the contracts and health of the team's starting tackles, it makes perfect sense why the team would want two tackles to protect Dalton and open up lanes for Hill and Bernard. The problem is, with this much emphasis put on OT in the draft, the offensive line is expected to be an elite, unbeatable unit by 2016. If they do not live up to that expectation, this draft will be remembered as one that failed to impact the Bengals as much as it could have.
Third Round Brilliance
No team in the NFL had a better round in the draft than the Bengals did in the third. The selection of Tyler Kroft replaces the presence of Jermaine Gresham as the team's run blocking tight end, and adds a pass catcher who isn't going to necessarily make any highlight reels, but could be a safe checkdown option for Dalton when the pocket is collapsing and none of the primary targets are open.
And then there's Paul Dawson. Although officially listed as an inside linebacker, Dawson is sized more like an outside linebacker, and plays more like a weak side backer. The Bengals have two good linebackers in strong side pass rusher, Vontaze Burfict, and inside run stopper, Rey Maualuga. However, prior to the draft, the Bengals didn’t have a viable option to round out the linebacker corps and had absolutely no worthwhile linebacker presence in coverage. That's where Dawson fits in. Dawson was a tackling and interception machine in his senior season at TCU, and he’ll be expected to shore up the one weak spot in the Bengals' LB corps. If you're keeping score, the Bengals may have hit a grand slam with the 99th pick in the draft.
Fourth Round Steals
For the second round in a row, the Bengals were able to take two players on their board, as opposed to the normal one, thanks to compensatory selections. They didn't quite make as much out of these two picks as they did in the third round, but they still managed to find two players who could be very reliable producers for the team.
If you haven't heard by now, the Bengals tried to trade up for Josh Shaw. Before Shaw’s lies landed him in the media spotlight, Shaw was seen as a potential second round pick. The Bengals apparently still valued him highly as a football player, and believe him to be genuinely remorseful for his tasteless antics. The best part is, they didn't have to trade up and got him late in the fourth round anyway. Shaw could potentially be a PR handful for the Bengals, but they have displayed the ability to work with and change troubled players in the past.
The compensatory selection of Marcus Hardison was also a pretty good pick. As a potentially undersized but extremely quick 4-3 Defensive Tackle, the Bengals couldn't have done much better this late in the draft trying to find a compliment for Geno Atkins. It can be argued that the Bengals should have placed more emphasis on this position, with Malcolm Brown available in the first round and Carl Davis available with the Bengals' first 3rd round pick. But, this is the player the Bengals decided to bring in, likely in an attempt to trust Devon Still enough to get back to the level of production that made him a second round pick in 2012.
Fifth Round Waste
The Bengals' fifth round selection made no sense to many fans. C.J. Uzomah was not projected to be drafted at all, and the Bengals already seem to be solid at the tight end position. Tyler Eifert is, by most accounts, poised for a breakout season in 2015. To compliment Eifert, the Bengals selected Kroft in the third round, and still have a very reliable Kevin Brock occupying the third spot on the depth chart. Furthermore, the Bengals are well established at H-Back with Ryan Hewitt occupying the position.
Kenny Bell, the return man and potential NFL starter from Nebraska, was still on the board when the Bengals selected Uzomah. Bell would have been a great late-steal and compliment to A.J. Green, but the Bengals decided to select a tight end who likely will not have a chance to make the roster and who likely could have been signed in the priority Free Agency period. At this point, the Bengals deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the draft. But, it is extremely hard to understand the logic of this pick. The only aspect that keeps this round from being a complete waste lies in the fact that Uzomah seems to possess plenty of talent that wasn't well utilized in college.
Let's not be too quick to shun Uzomah from the team. He could very well turn out to be the next Tony Gonzalez and we all just totally missed something that Marvin and the gang saw. But, taking only his college tape and the Bengals' current roster into consideration, it's very hard to understand the reasoning behind the pick.
Sixth Round - Another Steal
You could make the argument that the Bengals didn’t need a free safety from this year’s draft class. Reggie Nelson is only 31, so you can probably wait a few years to find his replacement. But, Reggie Nelson will also be a free agent after this season, so if you can find some insurance you might as well take it. And, if you can find a player with second or third round talent in the sixth round who provides that insurance, you'd be an idiot not to take it. Luckily, the Bengals don't appear to be idiots. As a result, Derron Smith could potentially be the next guy that everyone references as the late round pick who ended up making a big impact.
Seventh Round Questions
With the contracts of A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones all being up at the end of the season, why did the team this long to take a wide receiver?
With the age of Adam Jones and the lackluster play of Brandon Tate, most fans thought a return man would be selected earlier in the draft than the seventh round. Why did the Bengals take Mario Alford when Tre McBride, a physically ideal slot receiver and viable option to return kicks was still available?
The Bengals could have done much better even this late than Mario Alford. Alford is known for his blazing speed, but not much else. This analysis could be completely wrong, and Alford could end up being a reliable player for the Bengals, but his scouting report just screams another Cobi Hamilton.
Overall Grade: A-
Although they could have utilized more draft day strategy, there is simply no question that the Bengals significantly improved their roster through this draft. Ultimately, it appears that the Bengals got three potential stars, six potential starters, and eight potential roster additions. Extra picks or not, that is an excellent haul. But, that's what we have come to expect from the Bengals lately. The 2015 season and beyond will determine just how successful this year’s draft class will be.