The Bengals are at an interesting place this year where they have plenty of positions that they can improve on in the draft, but no particular dire areas of need. It was commonly accepted that wide receiver and linebacker were two of the bigger needs for the team heading into this offseason. But, the signings of Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby alleviated a lot of that pressure. Now, the Bengals can just focus on what they're best at: taking the best player available.
That idea of taking the "best player available" seems to be what Todd McShay and Mel Kiper were going for in their latest three-round mock draft, when picking for the Bengals. It's a strategy that's worked pretty well for the Bengals over the last few years. But, in this case, it ended up with the Bengals making some interesting picks:
Round 1, Pick 24: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Todd McShay's pick: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
With the top three receivers gone, Billings can be a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line. He has a rare combination of quickness, athleticism and power.
The Bengals picking up a defensive tackle in the first round seems weird at first glance, until you realize that Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman, and Laquon Treadwell all got taken off the board before they picked. Going forward, defensive tackle might be one of the most underrated needs on the team. The tandem of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko seems pretty solid for now, but don't forget the Peko is going to be 32 in November. Pretty soon, they're going to have to think about the future at defensive tackle. Taking Devon Still and Brandon Thompson in the second and third round of the 2012 draft didn't quite pan out as hoped, and there isn't anyone on the team ready to take over for Peko.
The one thing that makes this pick a little confusing is who else was left on the board after No. 24. The Bengals passed on Kevin Dodd, Vernon Butler, Will Fuller, and Ryan Kelly. Given the run on receivers that ended up happening early, there was plenty of talent at other positions to choose from. Billings isn't a bad pick by any means, but you have to wonder if defensive tackle is really important enough right now to use a first round pick on.
Round 2, pick 55: Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
55. Cincinnati Bengals
Mel Kiper's pick: Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
I thought Todd reached a little bit for the Bengals in Round 1, so this helps. The Bengals need help at wide receiver, and this in a good value for Boyd.
The Bengals didn't really have a good shot at getting a high-end receiver in the first round after the run that happened. Will Fuller was available, but in all likelihood they would end up trading down if they were planning on taking him. Tyler Boyd in the second round alleviates the need for the Bengals to pick up another receiver through the rest of the draft, although you could make the argument that the Bengals might not be all that interested in this particular player.
Boyd is known more for his ability to reel in tough catches consistently and compete for balls, rather than being a particularly speedy player. He doesn't necessarily seem to fit the Bengals' scheme perfectly, but he just very well may be the most talented receiver left on the board at that point. Other options could have been Leonte Caroo, Pharoh Cooper, or Braxton Miller. Out of these options, Cooper fits the Bengals' scheme the closest and to me, Boyd just doesn't seem right for the Bengals at No. 55.
Round 3, pick 87: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
87. Cincinnati Bengals
Mel Kiper's pick: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, Georgia
A high-floor player with toughness at the point, he can set the edge and could give you something as a pass-rusher. Good value slot.
As previously mentioned, the signing of Karlos Dansby alleviates the need for the Bengals to take an outside linebacker in this year's draft. However, P.J. Dawson is really the only highly talented outside linebacker that they have waiting in the wings right now. Picking up a talented player like Jenkins to help shore up the depth could end up being a very good idea.
Other good players who were available with this pick include Xavien Howard, Graham Glasgow, and Jalen Mills. If Jordan Jenkins ends up being higher on the Bengals' draft board than those three, more power to them. Jenkins at No. 87 would provide good value at a position that the team could probably stand to improve on. However, with the kind of talent that was still available at this point, they'll need to be absolutely sure that Jenkins is their guy. The Bengals do love Georgia players...