The NFL offseason can seem brutally long, and the next major event everyone is looking forward to is the 2016 NFL Draft.
Sadly, even that is over two months away, but that does give us plenty of time to talk about and break down the top prospects, as well as who may fit with the Bengals. To this point, it's still very fluid as to what their biggest need(s) will be.
As of now, defensive line is probably the biggest need because of so many guys being free agents (Brandon Thompson, Wallace Gilberry, Pat Sims), not to mention Domata Peko being 31-years-old. But wide receiver will quickly become the biggest need if Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu both leave in free agency.
With those two positions possibly being big needs, we took a look at what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. had to say about various prospects on his most recent conference call with reporters about the draft.
One prospect that's been mocked to the Bengals occasionally this offseason is TCU receiver Josh Doctson. He was easily one of the of the three or four best receivers in college football this past season, catching 71 passes for 1,250 yards (19 avg.) with 14 touchdowns through the first eight games.
A wrist injury suffered in the ninth game led to Doctson just catching seven passes for 76 yards over his final two games before he was shut down for the rest of the season. That's led to his stock dropping enough that he's a guy very much in play for the Bengals with the 24th-overall pick.
Based on Kiper's description of him, Doctson sounds like a great fit for the Bengals.
"He runs well," Kiper said. "He's got a lot of length. He's got tremendous ball skills, competitive and had a great year and has great character."
However, Kiper isn't ready to call Doctson a lock for the first round. Whether he goes in the first or second round could come down to his time in the 40-yard dash, according to Kiper.
"His 40 time’s going to be important. If he runs a real good 40, he’s a (Round) 1," Kiper said. "If he doesn’t, he’s probably an early-to-mid (Round) 2."
No matter how bad Doctson may do at the combine, it's really hard to see him falling all the way into the 50s for the Bengals to grab him in Round 2, so Round 1 is probably the only spot Cincinnati can grab him.
Another player who has been mocked to the Bengals this offseason is Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings. As mentioned above, this is a position that could be the biggest need this year, so Billings make sense at 24.
Though Billings is a regarded by most analysts as a first-round prospect, Kiper called him a "borderline first-round prospect." The good news for the Bengals is if defensive line does end up being their biggest need, it's a position with tremendous depth that could allow them to grab a quality tackle in the latter rounds.
"For certain spots, if you're looking at defensive line, it depends on who you like, but that is a position where there is tremendous depth and tremendous talent," Kiper said. "This is probably the best defensive line group I've ever seen in my nearly 40 years of doing this.
"I've been doing it since the '78 college football season, and I don't remember as many outstanding defensive ends, defensive tackles, combo guys, as there are this year. It's loaded with elite guys in the first and second round. So if you need a defensive lineman, end or tackle, this is the year to get one."
One lineman the Bengals probably should forget about is EKU defensive end Noah Spence. The former Ohio State Buckeye transferred to FCS EKU after multiple transgressions at OSU, but he starred for the Colonels this past season before lighting up Senior Bowl week. He's now a guy expected to go early in Round 1, and Kiper doesn't see him making it into the 20s for the Bengals to snatch up.
"Going to go high," Kiper said of Spence. "His interviews are going to be important for him," Kiper said. "I give him to the Giants. A pass-rusher is what they need. If you're looking for other options at that point, from a pass rush standpoint, there is nobody else in the mix with Noah Spence.
"At that point, he's the only guy that would make a lot of sense as a combo defensive end/outside linebacker and I think that is why he gets pushed up. Maybe he wouldn't in a draft where you had a couple more options, but you don't have a lot of guys that can after the passer at that particular point in the draft."
Another interesting call in this draft will come between Clemson's dynamic duo at defensive end in Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson. Dodd went from situational pass-rusher before 2015 to becoming one of the most dominant ends in football, registering 62 tackles, 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss (second in the nation) and 46 QB pressures.
But Lawson has been a standout player ever since first arriving at Clemson. His 25.5 tackles for loss last season led the nation to go with 12.5 sacks and 86 tackles. Either guy would be a nice get a defensive end/strongside backer for the Bengals if they choose to go this route.
Depending on what mock(s) you've seen, either guy could go as high as the top 10 or fall to or past the Bengals at 24. Kiper doesn't see much of a difference between them and says workouts may be what separates them.
"It’s a slim difference," Kiper said. "I think workouts are going to be important; that’s going to determine whether you’re a mid first-round pick or maybe a late first-round pick. If you look at the body of work, you would go Lawson. If you look at this one year, and certainly the way he played in the championship game, you would go Dodd."
Another position the Kiper thinks has a lot of depth that may allow a team like the Bengals to land an impact guy in the latter rounds is linebacker. One guy who may fall in the first round is Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith, who tore several knee ligaments in his team's bowl game and could be in for a redshirt 2016 season in the same manner the Bengals handled Cedric Ogbuehi last year.
"There’s combo guys. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) would have been the No. 1 player in this draft, but got hurt (knee) against Ohio State," Kiper said. "He’s probably going to have to redshirt. He’s still a first-round pick. Then you have the fast guys that can run around and make plays. Then you have the Deone Bucannon types, a guy that can be a safety that ends up being more a linebacker in the NFL.
"You have the Derrick Brooks types in Dion Jones (LSU) and Darron Lee from Ohio State falls into that mix. Fast, versatile guys. Myles Jack (UCLA) has great potential and a chance to be a Top 10 pick, despite the injury early in the year, because he can cover. If you can run and cover and you’re athletic and mirror in coverage as Myles Jack can, you have great value. The linebacker position overall this year, I think it’s pretty good."