Free agency will be here soon, and it could lead to a dramatic reshaping of the Bengals' roster.
This past season, Cincinnati sported one of the best receiving corps in football that was a big strength for a team that went 12-4. While A.J. Green got most of the attention, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu quietly made big contributions at various points throughout the year, just as they've done for much of their young careers.
Over their past three seasons, Sanu and Jones have combined for 3,167 yards and 21 touchdowns, and that's with Jones missing all of 2014. Unfortunately, both could leave this offseason as they hit free agency for the first time. If that's the case, wide receiver suddenly becomes the biggest need for the Bengals in the 2016 NFL Draft.
During a recent conference call with the media, Mike Mayock talked about this draft class and some of the various prospects that may interest Cincinnati. When asked directly about the Bengals possibly looking for a receiver with the 24th pick, Mayock admitted that reaching for a guy may be something Cincy has to do to get a quality pass-catcher.
"It's an interesting question. I don't think you ever want to reach, but I think common sense tells you that if you're sitting at 24 and you're Cincinnati, we're in the second round, whatever round we're talking about, and there's only X number of wide receivers that you believe in, they're probably is going to be a run on those guys because there's going to be a drop-off after a certain point."
Mayock also pointed out how this isn't nearly as deep of a receiver class as the past two drafts, nor does it have the sure-fire guys like last year did.
"Now, I'm not saying it's an awful class. I think it's solid. I just don't think it's as explosive as the last couple drafts. I mean, two years ago we had Watkins, Mike Evans, Beckham, Cooks, Benjamin. Last year we had a lot of injuries, but Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Perryman. I don't see those kind of athletes running around this year in this draft class. So I think you're going to see teams in the first or second round say a particular wide receiver fits what we do, and we'd better get him now."
As for which receivers could go in Round 1, Mayock pointed out several names who've been mocked to the Bengals this offseason. However, most of them aren't locks to go in Round 1.
"Corey Coleman and (Will) Fuller will both run really well. Josh Doctson, big question mark about his speed. If you're looking for a slot, you'd better go get Sterling Shepard. So there's some different conversations here, but I agree with your basic premise. If you really like a kid and he fits what you do, you probably need to get him."
If the Bengals opt to wait until Round 2 for a receiver, Mayock admitted several of the top receivers may still on the board, so not reaching in Round 1 may work well for Cincinnati.
"When you start getting into the second and third rounds, I think the conversation shifts to Michael Thomas from Ohio State, Josh Doctson, who I think has great hands, makes a bunch of catches on those 50/50 balls, but he's 6'3", 195. To put that in perspective, at 195 he's probably 16 pounds lighter than the Clemson receiver that came out a couple years ago that's with Pittsburgh, Martavis Bryant, and you know how skinny Martavis Bryant is.
"Will Fuller from Notre Dame, late two to mid three. He's going to run 4.35 but does not have natural hands. And then you start getting down to the point where we'd better pick one guy that fits something we do. I think it's a solid class. I just don't think it's as explosive up top as it has been."
One other prospect who's been mocked to the Bengals several times this offseason is Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who Mayock does not view as a first-round prospect.
"As far as Braxton Miller is concerned, I don't think he's a first-round pick this year, and trust me, I love his tape, I love what I saw at the Senior Bowl. I really like everything about this kid. But I think the first round is a little bit of a reach. I think as good as he looked at the Senior Bowl, he's still very raw at running routes. He takes too long getting off press. There's some things he's got to learn how to do.
"Having said that, I think his skill set is awesome. He's probably going to run 4.4, he's quick, he's fast, he's tough, he's really competitive, so I just think it's just a developmental timeline for him to be productive, and I think he's going to go in the second round."
Whatever happens, hopefully the Bengals do as they've typically done and stay true to their board when making the call as to who should be their first round pick. Doing so is what's helped them build a team that's now made it to five straight postseasons and is poised for a sixth if they have a strong offseason.