As he does every year, Mike Mayock has released his first list of the top five prospects at every position for the NFL draft. Throughout the list, plenty of talent can be found and the Bengals could utilize some of it. It's hard to say what exactly is the Bengals' biggest need this year with so much talent on the roster, and free agency still ahead in March. Many questions will be answered at that point to pinpoint the Bengals' biggest needs in the draft.
However, one of the highest profile free agent contract battles the Bengals will likely have is at wide receiver. As much as no one likes the situation, it is likely that the Bengals will need to part with either Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu during the free agency period.
Jones recently denied reports that he was seeking $7 million dollars per year in his upcoming contract talks with the Bengals. However, it will be hard for the team to be able to afford renewing both Jones' and Sanu's contracts. Securing a talented No. 2 receiver in the draft to complement A.J. Green, or at least round out the passing game is going to be key for the Bengals.
Here are the top five wide receivers and running backs in the draft, per Maycock's rankings.
From this group of receivers, there's plenty of talent to pick from. At pick No. 24, the final three players on this list would all be good value names for the Bengals to look at.
1. Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)
Treadwell could very well be the next big star in the NFL. All of the evidence points to him being the next DeAndre Hopkins due to his competitive nature and his ability to consistently produce. He's not going to play with the flashy speed or power of Antonio Brown or Calvin Johnson, but he'll almost always be able to get open down field and cause a headache for the cornerbacks who have the unfortunate task of covering him. The Bengals don't need a wide receiver who's going to demand the kind of attention he will get, but there could be a trade war for his services.
2. Corey Coleman (Baylor)
Coleman is definitely a prospect to consider. Taking him would most likely require a first round investment, but his ability to get cornerbacks to bite on his routes and simply outrun his opponents is something the Bengals would potentially need should Jones leave in free agency. His ability to go vertical with relative ease is something they would potentially miss from Sanu. It might be hard reconciling both Green and Coleman's roles on the team, but he would definitely be a great addition if Jones leaves in free agency.
3. Michael Thomas (Ohio State)
The scarlet and grey fans would love to see the Bengals take a shot at getting Michael Thomas. He's got all the measurements to be a great wide receiver in the NFL, much like Green. However, unlike Green, he's not a sure thing by any means. He has issues with footwork, fundamentals, and route running. Thomas is the kind of player who could be the next star like Calvin Johnson or the next bust like David Terrell. He would need to be developed quickly to have a chance at the NFL level and the Bengals just can't afford that right now with their first round draft pick.
4. Josh Doctson (TCU)
Aside from the obvious TCU connection with Bengals' quarterback, Andy Dalton, Doctson brings an element of reliability and the capacity to shred cornerbacks on deep routes. Doctson suffered a season ending wrist injury in his senior year at TCU, but that had a lot to do with the fact that there were only two games left in the season when he went out. It's likely that he will be taken in the second round. If he falls to the Bengals, he would be the ideal pick at that spot.
5. Will Fuller (Notre Dame)
Will Fuller is the kind of receiver who might not look great on paper, but his value packs a hell of a punch. He reminds some of Desean Jackson and others of Ted Ginn Jr. Some might hiss at the mention of Ginn's name on a draft analysis, but the fact of the matter is taking a Ginn-like prospect in the second round makes a lot of sense. Ginn was productive for the Carolina Panthers this season, once he found a system that suited him. In the same idea, Fuller could thrive in a system that allows him to fly under the radar as an undersized receiver who can disrupt the backfield and eventually start opening up the passing game for the top guys. If the Bengals do, in fact, sign Marvin Jones and move on from Mohamed Sanu, Fuller could be a good replacement for Sanu's role.
Bengals fans may or may not be over Jeremy Hill's fumble at the end of their Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the fact of the matter is the Bengals currently have a running back position overflowing with talent. They have two running backs with elite potential in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, an incredible multi-tooled player in Rex Burkhead, and a special teams Pro Bowler in Cedric Peerman. There's no reason for the Bengals to look to the draft for running back talent.
The biggest drawback for all of these players? The Bengals just couldn't use them. If the Bengals take a running back in this year's draft, the pick will likely come in the sixth or seventh rounds for a camp body and potential practice squad player, much like they did two years ago with James Wilder Jr. But, that's not to say that the rest of these prospects aren't worthy of a high draft pick for another team.
1. Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State)
Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes might be tempted by their own player on this list. While it is true that Ezekiel Elliot is a highly talented running back with the skills to have a bright future in the NFL, it is also true that running back is potentially one of the lowest needs on the team for the Bengals right now.
2. Derrick Henry (Alabama)
Derrick Henry reminds scouts of Brandon Jacobs. You're not going to stop him, you can only hope to slow him down. At 6'3" and 232 pounds, this guy is likely to move the chains on every play, and he just doesn't have an off-switch. Part of the problem is, as a pure power running back, he doesn't have a whole lot of prowess in other areas of his game. He's got what some might call "stone hands" and can easily be cut off due to his unilateral style of running. Due to his bell-cow nature, there's also the worry that he was used too much at Alabama. Running backs have a short lifespan in the NFL as it is, so a guy who has already seen 400 touches in his senior season alone carries a red flag.
3. Devontae Booker (Utah)
Devonte Booker is another bruiser, but with a little more quickness in his step. If he plays his cards right, he could be the next Willie Parker. You could describe him as a shifty player who loves to make people miss. He's not going to outrun the entire defense, but he's got a good chance of recreating the famous Beast Mode run from the 2011 playoffs. With Marshawn Lynch retiring, it wouldn't be a total shock to see the Seahawks go out and look for Booker in the second round.
4. Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech)
Kenneth Dixon will take every snap and fight for every yard, much like BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Thomas Rawls. If you manage to stop him, it will be a frustrating effort that probably winds up in 3-5 yards given up. However, there's also the chance on every single play that he eludes enough defenders to make his way to the endzone. The great Barry Sanders was known for having the ability and desire to evade every defender and avoid being hit as much as he could. You could get a similar quality from Dixon, but with more willingness to try to plow through a defender if necessary.
5. Jordan Howard (Indiana)
Jordan Howard just looks plain intimidating as a running back and combines power with good fundamentals, promising to be a very exciting prospect, reminiscent of Arian Foster. If you're looking for a running back with all the right measurables, the kid out of Indiana fits that role perfectly. Much like Foster, his direct, aggressive running style leads to him being a candidate for the "injury prone" label. Howard could make an immediate impact on any team willing to take a chance on him.