The NFL draft will be here in just two weeks, so by now, we all have our own little lists of prospects we really like in this class.
In two separate articles, ESPN analysts Louis Riddick and Todd McShay picked their favorite prospects from this draft, regardless of what round they're expected to go in. But as you can imagine, almost all of the guys they picked are expected to go at least before Day 2 ends when most of the sure-fire talent is off the board.
Several of the players they mentioned are potential targets for the Cincinnati Bengals throughout the first three rounds of the draft, some even being contenders for the 24th-overall pick.
For McShay, one defensive tackle he's really high on is Sheldon Day of Notre Dame, who may be someone to watch for in Round 2 or 3 for Cincinnati.
Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
What I like: I saw Day's last practice at Notre Dame, two days before he played in the Fiesta Bowl. A senior with nothing to prove, he twisted his ankle during two-minute-drill practice. The coaches tried to sub him out for obvious reasons, but Day told the sub to beat it and proceeded to play his tail off. Critics will focus on a lot of negative measurables -- he's too short, lacks bulk and only put up 21 reps on the bench. I don't care. This guy just makes plays (32 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 24 QB hurries in 48 career games). His motor is second to none at the defensive tackle position.
When I'd take him: Steal if he slides to Round 3.
You could make a good argument for defensive tackle being a big need or not being a need at all for the Bengals. The argument for it not needing addressed is having four quality tackles (Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Geno Atkins) on the roster to go with two talented youngsters (DeShawn Williams, Marcus Hardison).
The retort for that is the age of Sims (30), Peko (31) and health of Thompson (recovering from torn ACL), not to mention Peko has been badly worn down by the time the playoffs have come around, leading to the Bengals getting gashed up the middle again and again when the stakes are highest.
So don't be surprised to see someone like Day land in Cincinnati in rounds two or three.
There's no question wide receiver is the Bengals' biggest need, and McShay is very high on South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper in Round 3.
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
What I like: Cooper's versatility and big-play ability stand out to me. He averaged nearly 16 yards per catch throughout his three-year career in Columbia, while also returning punts and carrying the ball 71 times. At 5-11, he's slightly undersized, but he's thickly built (203 pounds) and has proven to be durable (25 consecutive starts in his final two seasons). While his measurables will lead him to drop, Cooper plays fasters on tape than the 4.60 40 he posted at South Carolina's pro day. Plus, he comes with great intangibles -- his grandfather, dad and brother are all Marines, so he knows the importance of discipline.
When I'd take him: Would feel great about using a third-rounder on him.
Despite the Gamecocks struggling mightily this past season, especially at quarterback, Cooper still led the team with 66 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. He turned pro as a true junior after the season and is now likely to hear his named called between Round 2-3. Depending on how the Bengals want to address this position, Cooper should be someone they strongly consider in Round 2 and run to the podium to draft him if he' there in Round 3.
While I respect McShay's opinion, I hold Riddick's opinions in higher regard because he had long careers as an NFL player, scout and director of pro personnel. His experience making these kinds of draft decisions is far more eye-opening, so when he says someone like West Virginia safety Karl Joseph is a first-round prospect, I'm listening.
That's exactly what Riddick thinks of the Mountaineers star who visited the Bengals recently. I do think he's a better target for teams in Round 2, but Riddick actually thinks Joseph may go at or before the range Cincinnati is picking in Round 1.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
Safety is the hardest position to evaluate due to the lack of point-of-attack exposure players experience during the course of a college football season. An evaluator needs to have a true understanding of how the position is taught at the highest level and how it should look when the skills are executed properly. Joseph plays the game just how it is supposed to look, from snap to finish. His footwork at the snap, play-entry angles against the run and pass, and ability to finish with absolutely ferocious hits and athletic interceptions make him and Jack my two favorite players to watch in this draft class. Everyone I have talked to loves Joseph's passion and commitment to being the best football player he can be. An early-season ACL injury makes his draft status a mystery, but in my opinion, he is the best overall defensive back in this draft.
When I'd take him: From 21-31 in the first round because of his injury.
Riddick also thinks highly of TCU receiver Josh Doctson, who's been touted as a possible Bengals target throughout the offseason. Though many mock drafts have had Doctson landing in Cincinnati, Riddick thinks he should be off the board by the 24th pick.
Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
I usually have reservations about prospects who come from nontraditional college offenses that don't translate well to the NFL, but I don't have that worry with Doctson. This young man was born to play wide receiver, and you see it in his football intelligence, fluid movement patterns and playmaking ability. He is an inside/outside threat who has a plan for dealing with press coverage, is very good at the break point and is an acrobat when it comes to going up and taking the ball away from defenders. This guy has extraordinary hands and concentration, putting on a clinic with his hand-eye coordination both on game tape and at the NFL combine. Don't be concerned about Doctson's 4.50-second 40-yard dash time -- he is plenty fast to win duels at the NFL level.
When I'd take him: From 11-20 in the first round.
Doctson has already met with the Bengals and is probably someone they'd run to the podium to select if he's somehow still on the clock at 24. But as we get closer to the draft, the more it feels like he's going to be gone by then.
One other player Riddick mentioned among his favorite players that Cincinnati may consider is Houston cornerback Williams Jackson III, who also visited the Bengals recently. Though he seems like a bit of reach at 24 for the Bengals, Riddick doesn't seem to think that at all.
William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Jackson is my favorite cornerback in this year's draft because of his instincts playing the ball in the air and coming up with pass breakups (23) and interceptions (five). At 6-foot, 190 pounds and running 4.37 in the 40, he has the measurables teams are looking for -- though he needs to continue to get stronger. It is the functional movement and instinctive man-cover skills, however, that separate Jackson from the rest. He can play many different disciplines -- press, off, man, zone -- at an equally high level, using good pattern recognition with exceptional closing speed and great timing finishing on the ball. Now, he does need to be better and more consistent as a tackler and will need to be mindful of how physical he gets with receivers past 5 yards at the NFL level, but he can be developed and coached in these areas.
When I'd take him: From 21-31 in the first round.
So based on what Riddick says, we should not be surprised to see guys like Joseph and Jackson be drafted in Round 1 by the Bengals. While cornerback and safety aren't exactly the biggest needs, the Bengals have been pretty good at taking the best player available in every draft.
Riddick's analysis suggests Joseph or Jackson may actually be the BPA when Cincinnati is on the clock, depending on how things play out.