It's the time of the year where mock drafts are coming at readers fast and furious, so we are jumping into the fray. There might be some changes once free agency has gotten underway and further as Pro Days fill up the schedule, but, this is our take at a post-Combine, pre-free agency mock draft for the Bengals.
We have a pretty good initial look at many of the prospects thanks to the Combine being in the books, so we're looking as positions of need before the Bengals make their inward or outward moves on the market. In the 2015 NFL Draft, Cincinnati went offense with their first three picks in offensive tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in rounds one and two, and then tight end Tyler Kroft in the third. Because of those decisions and 9 of their 14 unrestricted free agents showing up on defense--all of whom are either starters or heavy rotational players--we're looking at defense early in 2016.
Round One, Pick No. 24: Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State
Reason for the Pick: The Cincinnati Bengals have issues with three linebackers they have relied on for the past few years. Long-time spot starter and rotational backup, Vincent Rey, is an impending free agent, and though reports have the team looking to push hard to re-sign him, more natural ability from an exciting prospect might be needed. What's more, Emmanuel Lamur is also set to be a free agent and Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the first three games of 2016. That leaves Rey Maualuga, the unproven P.J. Dawson, an aging A.J. Hawk and a lot of special teams players currently on the roster.
Lee wowed at the Combine, particularly with a 4.43 40-yard dash, and should be moving up draft boards after being initially considered a fringe first round player. He also looked to have bulked up a little bit, weighing in at 232 at the Combine, making his fast 40 time that much more impressive.
2015 College Production: 13 games, 66 total tackles (36 solo), 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles.
Cincy Jungle Experts' Take from Cody Tewmey: Lee is my top option for them at linebacker who has a realistic shot to make it to No. 24, although I'd say he's likely top-15 now. With Jaylon Smith likely falling because of the nerve damage discovered in his knee at the Combine, and Lee's killer workout last week, he's up a notch on the pecking order. Lee's a great fit for what the Bengals need and only has been a linebacker for just three years, so his ceiling is crazy high.
Round Two, Pick No. 55: William Jackson III, Cornerback, Houston
Reason for the Pick: As is the situation at linebacker for the Bengals, cornerback is looking a bit precarious going into 2016. Two of their top four players at the position from 2015 are impending free agents in Adam Jones and Leon Hall, while questions surround both Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. Kirkpatrick is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is coming off a relatively disappointing first season as a full-time starter, while Dennard has been injured and unable to crack the depth chart above incumbent veterans. Behind those four are Chris Lewis-Harris and Josh Shaw, the later of whom might dabble at safety as he did in college, with two starters also set to hit free agency at this position as well.
Jackson has good size (6'0", 190 pounds), length and skills, making him a prospect a lot of scouts will like. According to Dane Brugler at CBS Sports, Jackson "looks comfortable in man-press or off-man" coverage systems, and the Bengals employ a lot of those concepts. The former Houston Cougar was a bit overshadowed by other prospects in the class, but really made a name for himself at the Combine. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah thinks Jackson might have vaulted himself in the first round with a 4.37 40-yard dash, while Jeremiah's colleague, Lance Zierlein, still thinks he's around the top-50 of the class because of some inconsistencies on tape. Zierlein also thinks Jackson is a "perfect AFC North corner" and actually pegged him to the Ravens. Jackson was also the Defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl.
2015 College Production: 13 games, 43 total tackles, 5 interceptions, 2 interception return touchdowns, 23 passes defensed.
Tewmey's Take: I was high on Jackson all along and the combine was his coming out party. I think he's going to go in the late first or early second, but it's a mock and it's still early in the process, so it's possible he falls to the Bengals in the actual draft. He's not that fast, but he's a tough, gritty player and will continue to rise. He's got the size needed to hold up in the AFC North.
Round Three, Pick No. 91: Tyler Boyd, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh
Reason for the Pick: My thinking is that the Bengals hang on to Marvin Jones and let Mohamed Sanu walk, making receiver a lesser priority, but a priority nonetheless. Obviously, things could change going forward, but if it plays out that way, the Bengals need some fresh blood with versatility and the ability to play the slot. Yes, the Bengals just completed another rental agreement with Brandon Tate, but I'm not putting much stock in the move as one where they still won't look at wideouts. If William Jackson III raised his stock to at least a mid-second round pick because of his Combine workout, Boyd did the opposite with his. It would seem as if Boyd's more of a guy who looks better on tape than in the drills and workouts.
Once looked at as a solid second round player, Boyd was part of a surprisingly-slow wide receiver class with a 4.58 40-yard dash at 6'1" and 195 pounds, and showed up an inch shorter and five pounds lighter than many expected. Still, he was very productive at Pitt, even though quarterback issues were prevalent, and worked both outside and in the slot. For his relatively slight stature, Boyd shows a penchant for making contested catches and is willing to take contact to make a grab. He also returned kicks a bit in college, with a 24.4 career kickoff return average and had 16 punt returns for 162 yards as a sophomore in 2014. As if his status as a potential Sanu replacement wasn't obvious enough, Boyd threw three passes last season, completing two for 67 yards and even had 40 rushing attempts last year.
2015 College Production: 91 catches, 926 yards, six receiving touchdowns, 349 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 11 kickoff returns for 257 yards.
Tewmey's Take: The mid-third round is right where I think Boyd will end up and I think he's a really good fit for the Bengals. He can help on kick returns and punt returns, and be Cincinnati's No. 3 wide receiver. He has some off-field baggage though, so he could slide.
I think they need a defensive tackle in one of the first three rounds, so that's my only complaint on these three picks. I think the "this class is deep, we can wait" attitude is silly. Get the premier talent and maybe even double-dip at the position if a bargain is there since there are a lot of impact interior defensive linemen in this class.