Week 17 is essentially meaningless for the Bengals, which means it’s time to start talking about the NFL Draft. We all have various opinions and biases when it comes to the draft, but ultimately, draft season is a time where we as football fans get to watch some more college football and look for guys we believe can help the Bengals in the near future and beyond. With that, let’s look at six players, as well as some alternative options, who could be high-profile targets for the Bengals in the first round of the 2017 Draft.
Disclaimer: I’m not a scout and I’ll be the first to admit I rarely watch college football. That said, my not watching college football has kept me more impartial. In this article, and every draft-related piece I write, I rely on the analysis of many others, who know much more about the draft and college players than I do. These impressions are based on several draft boards and draft profiles, as well as my feel for how the Bengals have drafted in the past and how they’ll be most likely to approach the draft in April.
Myles Garrett - DE, Texas A&M
Pros: Garrett is quite possibly the best prospect in this year’s entire draft class, and he fits an immediate need opposite Carlos Dunlap at defensive end.
Cons: Garrett doesn’t quite fit the Bengals’ prototypical mold of a defensive end, as he doesn’t have size of Dunlap or Michael Johnson. Drafting Garrett here could also mean giving up on Margus Hunt and/or Will Clarke.
Why he makes sense: As we saw with the Chargers, taking the best player on the board (Joey Bosa, in San Diego’s case) isn’t going to hurt your team unless you can’t create a scheme that gives him opportunities to succeed. Garrett could become a star opposite Dunlap.
Why he doesn’t make sense: I’m not even going to give you some made-up answer on why Garrett wouldn’t make sense. If he were to fall to the Bengals, I’d be ecstatic. He’s arguably the best player in the draft, and he fits the Bengals’ biggest need. If Cincinnati traded up to get Garrett, I could easily live with the decision.
Jonathan Allen - DE, Alabama
Pros: Allen is viewed by many as a guy whose ceiling is that of the best player in this Draft class. Looks like a guy who could be a three-down player opposite Dunlap.
Cons: Like with Garrett, Allen doesn’t fit the prototypical size profile of a traditional Bengals defensive end.
Why he makes sense: There aren’t many 293-pound defensive linemen that can generate a pass rush, let alone generate 12 sacks in a season. The Bengals desperately need a spark on the defensive line, and Allen would be a solid fit. And because so many teams at the top of the Draft already have capable edge rushers on their rosters, it’s not completely impossible for one of these two players to fall to Cincinnati, though it’s unlikely. But if the Bengals really like a guy, they’ll have the Draft capital to move up in the first round should they choose to.
Why he doesn’t make sense: The Bengals have been trying to mold Will Clarke into Johnson’s eventual successor, and taking a defensive end here would likely spell the end of Clarke’s future in Cincinnati, at least as a guy who the team believed could eventually start.
Other names at the position: Derek Barnett, Tim Williams, Carl Lawson, Charles Harris
Reuben Foster - LB, Alabama
Pros: Last year, Reggie Ragland was considered the best inside linebacking prospect in the 2016 Draft class, but even then, it was apparent that Foster was the more athletic of the two Crimson Tide ‘backers. The linebacker is solid in pass coverage, offers prototypical size, is ultra-aggressive and, unlike most Bengals linebackers, can actually run.
Cons: Like with Vontaze Burfict, Foster’s aggressiveness boasts pros and cons. On the negative side, opposing quarterbacks are able to take advantage of the linebacker with their eyes, the linebacker’s aggressiveness leaves little room for error and the guy needs to learn how to tackle with his head up.
Why he makes sense: Cincinnati could be the new Carolina (whose inside linebacking duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis was the best nickel LB package in the NFL), only with a more aggressive duo of linebackers. Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme has worked tremendously in the Queen City, but it is still missing another explosive linebacker lined up next to Burfict. Plugging in a guy like Foster could take the Bengals’ defense to the next level.
Why he doesn’t make sense: One could argue the Bengals’ struggles to actually land a quality linebacker in the draft should present a cause for concern in picking one on Day 1. Additionally, there are still guys on the roster in P.J. Dawson and Nick Vigil (moreso Vigil than Dawson) who could potentially play opposite Burfict in nickel packages.
Zach Cunningham - LB, Vanderbilt
Pros: Cunningham, like with Foster, is a quick, instinctual linebacker and a guy who would immediately improve Cincinnati’s speed on the defensive side of the ball. He’s an excellent run defender and a difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball.
Cons: As mentioned with Foster, the first round seems high for a linebacker, regardless of the player’s talent level — at least when it comes to Cincinnati.
Why he makes sense: Three-down linebackers with speed are a rare breed and don’t come around often. One could argue making this pick, while a perceived reach, would be absolutely worth it if Cunningham can develop into a three-down player.
Why he doesn’t make sense: As mentioned earlier, the Bengals have used third-round picks on linebackers in the past two drafts. It seems like a long shot for Dawson to become the player Cincinnati had envisioned when drafting him, but Vigil is still around. If the Bengals believe either of those two guys can be the answer, perhaps a first-round pick is better utilized elsewhere.
Other names at the position: Jarrad Davis
Mike Williams - WR, Clemson
Pros: Williams, like former Clemson wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, is a monster when it comes to making contested catches. It certainly helps that the two most recent wideouts to come out of Clemson have been massively successful in the NFL when healthy. Williams has great size and is a playmaker after the catch.
Cons: Williams isn’t a burner, and durability issues will always remain a concern.
Why he makes sense: Andy Dalton seems to thrive when he’s commanding an offense with an abundance of playmakers who can be difference-makers in the passing game. Williams, though he’s not a burner, would certainly add to the Bengals’ arsenal.
Why he doesn’t make sense: Bengals fans will go back and forth all day long about whether the team needs the boundary guy opposite A.J. Green to be a burner. And though it’s an exhausting discussion, it’s one worth having. Green is the best deep threat in the NFL and Tyler Eifert is a magnet in the red zone. Would adding another guy who has deep speed be a better move?
Corey Davis - WR, Western Michigan
Pros: Davis might just be the most well-rounded wideout in the draft. He has great size, quickness and hands, as well as a polished route-running ability. His college stats are also off-the-boards and filled with records.
Cons: Like with Williams, Davis is not a blazer.
Why he makes sense: Marvin Jones, Brandon LaFell and even Jerome Simpson have put up good numbers opposite Green, so adding a well-rounded guy like Davis would be a great complement to Green and Tyler Boyd.
Why he doesn’t make sense: I didn’t mention it with Williams, but I should’ve — the Bengals have already invested a ton of Draft capital at the position. Green is the highest-paid wideout in football, the Bengals just spend a second-rounder on Boyd and LaFell just put up good numbers on a one-year, prove-it deal. One could argue receiver is far from the Bengals’ biggest need, considering how much they’ve already invested in the position.
Other names at the position: John Ross, JuJu Smith-Schuster
Additional Draft thoughts
- This year’s draft class is loaded at the running back position, but I don’t think there’s a need to take one early, even if the Bengals give up on Jeremy Hill (which I don’t think they will). That said, a running back — probably later in the Draft — could make sense for the Bengals if the team is unable to sign Rex Burkhead and/or Cedric Peerman in free agency.
- From what I’ve heard, this is a very weak offensive line class. Cam Robinson might be an enticing name to Bengals fans, considering the struggles of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but investing draft capital in an offensive tackle two years after taking linemen in the first and second rounds would be a bad idea.
- The Bengals are projected to have three or four compensatory picks in the draft, meaning they could have up to 11 total picks in April. This will be huge, as the team can either leverage those picks to trade up (hopefully in the first round, for a defensive end) or pick 11 guys and figure out which ones will make the final roster. They opted for the second strategy in 2012 and ended up with the deepest Draft class they’ve had in the Dalton era.
- Something needs to be done at the kicker position. Knowing the Bengals, I’d guess they’ll do their best to sign a free agent rather than rely on the draft. But who knows, maybe with the abundance of picks, they take a kicker.
- Positions the Bengals are most likely to draft, regardless of round: Running back (assuming either Burkhead or Peerman leave in free agency), defensive end, linebacker, offensive line
- The cornerback and guard positions are interesting, as re-signing Kevin Zeitler and Dre Kirkpatrick (hopefully for the right price) is in the Bengals’ best interest at the moment. However, either guy could leave for the right price, which means corner and/or guard could be a need in the Draft if the Bengals don’t replace either of those guys should they leave in free agency.
- Unless one of the two guys opts to walk, I don’t expect the Bengals to be very active in free agency. The team has a litany of draft picks, so signing too many players prior to the Draft would mean the team wouldn’t be able to sign all of its Draft picks.
- Considering Russell Bodine’s improvements, the notion of selecting a center on Day 1 (or even Day 2) of the draft is a bit far-fetched, as the team has expressly stated Bodine is the starter. That said, taking a late-round flyer on a high-upside center could be something Cincinnati evaluates.
- Trading AJ McCarron probably won’t happen, even with Jeff Driskel on the roster — the backup quarterback’s value isn’t as high as it was last year, and as previously mentioned, the Bengals already have an abundance of picks in this year’s draft.