The Bengals made their way to the west coast Wednesday to watch the USC Trojans hold their Pro Day.
USC typically has a number of NFL prospects, and while they don't have any elite guys this year, some of their top guys may be targets for Cincinnati. The top prospect to watch for is hybrid linebacker/safety Su'a Cravens, someone who NFL teams still don't appear sure of where he'll play in the NFL.
LB @Sua_Cravens runs a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash at #USCProDay. #USCtotheNFLhttps://t.co/hQrMG1AYWd— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) March 23, 2016
Cravens, who has twice been named first-team All-Pac-12, led the Trojans with 78 tackles and 15 tackles for loss to go with 5.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as a junior in 2015. He had nine interceptions during his three-year career after arriving at USC as a highly-touted safety and played in the secondary as a true freshman before converting to linebacker in 2014.
Given the Bengals' love of versatile players who can play multiple positions, combined with Reggie Nelson still unsigned and Emmanuel Lamur gone, Cravens could fill two roles depending on how Cincy uses him.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein views him as a second-round prospect that could develop into a star linebacker.
SOURCES TELL US: "He's a lot of fun to watch because he processes quickly like an NFL linebacker and then just fires into the play. I've never really cared about the size at the WILL, I just want to know if they have instincts and can run and make plays. That's it. He can do that." -- Former NFL general manager
NFL COMPARISON: Lavonte David
BOTTOM LINE: Plays with a unique lens that includes his time at the safety position as a freshman. Teams focusing on putting a "tweener" label on him could be making a huge mistake considering his competitive nature and toughness. Cravens was highly disruptive and productive in each of his three seasons as a starter thanks to his tools/traits to act on his instincts. Cravens will help on special teams immediately and could become an early starter for a 4-3 defense looking for a playmaking weak-side linebacker.
However, Cravens told ESPN after his Pro Day that NFL teams think he's better off at safety.
"They just wanted to see me at DB most importantly," Cravens said. "They wanted to see if I can open up my hips, if I can break on the ball, if I can catch the ball and if I can cover the deep half and the deep third. I think I did that pretty well today."
Cravens did say he's fine playing either position, but again hinted at teams viewing him as more of a defensive back at the pro level.
"It still depends on what team drafts me," Cravens said, "but I think they're starting to look at me more as a safety."
After Cravens, there aren't any more projects ranked high from USC. Quarterback Cody Kessler should be a quality NFL backup, something the Bengals do not need, if they keep McCarron. That's also true of running back Tre Madden. Both of these are projected as early Day 3 picks.
One guy who might interest the Bengals is center Max Tuerk. The 6'5", 298-pound offensive lineman started 38 games in for the Trojans and was a first-team selection on the ESPN preseason All-American team coming into 2015. However, Tuerk suffered a torn ACL during an Oct. 11 loss to Washington, costing him the rest of the season.
Tuerk offers a lot of versatility and could develop into a quality NFL player if he gets healthy. With the Bengals needing an upgrade at center over Russell Bodine, not to mention depth at guard with Kevin Zeitler hitting free agency next year, Tuerk could offer a lot of value to Cincinnati.
NFL.com's Lance Zierlein has Tuerk rated as his 81st-best prospect and compares him to All-Pro lineman Evan Mathis.
NFL COMPARISON: Evan Mathis
BOTTOM LINE: Athletic, but undersized center who gives tremendous pound-for-pound effort on every rep. Tuerk uses hand strength and plus balance and body control to make up for a lack of power, but his knee injury and below average mass for the position will certainly scare some teams away. Tuerk can handle himself in any scheme but is a fit for primarily zone scheme rushing attacks who don't face many 3-4 fronts within their division.
Elsewhere, the Bengals made a short trip up to Ohio University for the Bobcats' Pro Day. This was probably more due diligence than anything as they were just one of three teams present.
One guy to look for as a possible seventh-round option or as an undrafted free agent after the draft is cornerback Ian Wells. A full-time starter during the past two seasons, Wells finished his college career with 141 total tackles, 28 pass deflections, six tackles for loss and two interceptions.