With the Super Bowl now behind us, the focus of the NFL turns to the 2016 NFL Draft and the events leading up to it.
We've already been through the all-star circuit and seen some of the top prospects in action one last time at the college level, and pretty soon the Scouting Combine will be here. Though it seems irrelevant in terms of watching guys in tight outfits working out with no pads (it really is), the important part of the combine and Pro Days is giving NFL scouts, coaches and executives a chance to meet with many of this year's draft prospects.
For now, and knowing free agency is still ahead, it's time for another round of mock draft round ups. While the Bengals have been good at adding quality players at cheap prices in free agency, their best players come via the draft, and this year shouldn't be any different. After finishing this past season with a 12-4 record, it was clear this team is very close to a championship, and hitting a homerun with their first draft pick could be what gets them over the hump.
That said, many of the early mock drafts are basing their Bengals picks more on potential needs arising more than immediate needs. Wide receiver is currently not a need at all for this team, but that's before Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu hit the open market and are possibly signed away.
Many seem to be anticipating that to happen, as it explains why so many mocks still have the Bengals taking a pass-catcher with the 24th-overall pick. Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller continues to tab Ohio State's Braxton Miller to Cincy in his latest mock draft thanks in large part to his big Senior Bowl week.
Miller dominated the week of practice, showing a quickness and burst that no receiver could match. And as a natural pass-catcher, he showed better instincts and hands than Will Fuller, who's also considered a late-first-rounder, during his time at Notre Dame.
Miller isn’t a finished product, but what he brings to the table right away as a receiver, runner and returner should excite Cincinnati Bengals fans who are entering an offseason that may see both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leave as free agents.
The former All-Big Ten passer moved to receiver this past year and showed glimpses of becoming an impact pass-catcher. Miller was also pegged as someone who had one of the best showings at the Senior Bowl.
Even if one or both of Jones and Sanu are re-signed, you could argue another viable receiver wouldn't hurt this offense, especially when we're talking about a late-first round pick where it's often best to take the best available player.
Baylor star receiver Corey Coleman is who USA Today's Nate Davis has the Bengals taking with the 24th pick.
He'll need to develop into a better route runner, but he should step into the NFL as an effective deep threat immediately. Aside from A.J. Green, free agency could leave Cincinnati perilously thin at wideout. Even if he's raw, Coleman is the type of player who could open things up for Green and TE Tyler Eifert.
Cornerback is also a position that's not a real need for the Bengals right now, but it quickly becomes one if Leon Hall and Adam Jones leave via free agency. With Darqueze Dennard coming off a major shoulder injury and Dre Kirkpatrick being erratic at best last year, another corner in Round 1 could be in the cards for Cincinnati.
That's why SB Nation's Dan Kadar has the Bengals grabbing Ohio State corner Eli Apple with their first pick.
Two of Cincinnati's top four cornerbacks -- Leon Hall and Adam Jones -- are free agents, so the Bengals may need to bolster the position. Apple is a high-upside player whose pure talent is better than that of most players picked in this range. He could be available here, though, because he was inconsistent last season for the Buckeyes.
You'll probably notice a theme this offseason of Buckeyes commonly being mocked to the Bengals. That's not as much as Columbus being a short drive from Cincinnati as much as the Buckeyes having as many as nine first-round picks in this year's draft, nearly one-third of Round 1.
What about linebacker? With Vontaze Burfict set to be suspended three games as Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur hit free agency, this could also be the position Cincy addresses with the 24th pick.
Eddie Brown of the San Diego Union-Tribune has the Bengals grabbing Buckeyes linebacker Darron Lee with said pick.
Lee has proven to be a dynamic play-maker during his short time in Columbus. With Bosa ejected early on an already-depleted defensive line, Lee was pivotal in the Buckeyes’ 44-28 Fiesta Bowl victory over the Fighting Irish. He tied for the team lead with seven tackles, including two sacks. Top needs: OLB, C, DL
Another position that could use an upgrade is defensive tackle, to find a player to go next to Geno Atkins. With Atkins being so dominant, the Bengals should be getting more production from that other d-tackle spot, which they're not getting enough of from Domata Peko.
That's why Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke has the Bengals taking Baylor defensive lineman Andrew Billings.
Even in mock drafts, the Bengals somehow get the draft board to fall their way. Billings can step in from Day One on the nose, next to Geno Atkins. Or, truer to Bengals form, he can ease his way into the rotation alongside Domata Peko (a cut candidate), Brandon Thompson (if he re-signs cheap) and others.
Of all the aforementioned prospects, which do you like most for the Bengals in Round 1?