Every year, the biggest focus on the NFL draft is which players can come in and make the biggest impact as rookies.
For the Bengals, they tend to balance their drafts out with guys who will make an instant impact, and those who will sit and develop as rookies. In fact, there's a good chance their first two picks this year, Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi, won't play much at all this year.
That doesn't mean they won't have at least a few rookies who make a significant impact this year for a team looking to make a deep playoff run. Here's our staff's picks for which rookie makes the biggest impact.
This one is easy for me it's Paul Dawson. I've got a gut feeling that Tez is not going to be ready for the beginning of the season. Dawson is likely going to have to start in his place, that's huge to get at pick 99. He also has the best instincts in the draft at LB and will help us improve multiple positions. I predict he holds the spot at WLB and when Tez comes back he slides back to MLB then Rey to SLB.
If Mario Alford makes the 53 man roster and is the KR/PR, then he is the most impactful rookie. Simply because he did what many before him tried to do and failed.....unseat Tate the Great from that gig. He'll become a Bengals folklore legend before he ever returns a punt in stripes.
I think Tyler Kroft will make his fair share of plays over the year. They'll need him as a blocker and he's actually pretty quick as a receiver. Kroft still has room to grow into his frame. He could come on strong at the end of the year as a blocker and a clutch receiving option for Dalton. Depending on health of the linebacker corps as a unit, Paul Dawson could also be a key player.
I am hoping Mario Alford. The Bengals picked a speedster with their final pick. My hope for his impact would be as a guy that could return kickoffs. Pairing him with Adam Jones in the kick return game could be a scary prospect for opposing teams cover units.
Tyler Kroft. When the "other TE named Tyler" went down last year it was right on the cusp of what promised to be a stellar season. We had him pegged as more of a pass catcher and chain mover role and Gresham was never able to deliver when we needed him the most. Kroft seems quite ready to play in the NFL and worked hard to add blocking skills along with his great hands. He could very well give us the old Patriots 1-2 punch of Gronk and Hernandez that teams have been trying to replicate for years now.\
If the health of the team remains as is, which let's be optimistic and say it will, it'll likely be Tyler Kroft who makes the biggest impact as a rookie. I think Dawson will have his shot too -- especially if Burfict misses the beginning of the season -- but Kroft can step in right away and create a two-Tyler TE set that the Bengals wished they had last year.
I am going to go out on a limb here and say their seventh round pick, Mario Alford (WR - WVU). I don't see their first 3 picks playing a lot of snaps and I think Kroft will be used more as a blocker. As for Alford though, I think he wins the Bengals KR position and returns a kick or two for a touchdown as a rookie - maybe I am just wishful thinking that someone can finally supplant Tate. I also think he will have a chance to contribute in the slot as a result of his game changing speed.
There's no question for me that it's Paul Dawson. He's a tackling machine that can play both middle and weakside linebacker probably better than anyone on the roster not named Burfict. Speaking of, I still don't expect Vontaze playing the first month of the season, if not longer, leaving Dawson to step right into a starting role this year. Even when Burfict returns, I believe the Bengals will find a way to keep giving Dawson 30+ snaps per game. He's just too good to keep on the bench, even as a rookie.