The NFL draft is closing in fast as the Bengals look for those last few missing pieces to what hopes to be a Super Bowl-contending squad in 2016.
For practically the entire offseason, wide receiver has been the projected position for Cincinnati to address with their first pick, whether that's at 24 will it currently resides or in a potential trade down. But in a draft class lacking depth and elite-tier prospects at this position, it's going to be hard for a quality pass-catcher to fall all the way into the mid-late 20s, depending on how the Bengals rank various receivers on their big board.
Speaking of, the guys at Pro Football Focus constructed their version of the 2016 Bengals big Board. for the 24th pick, PFF sees Alabama center Ryan Kelly, Baylor receiver Corey Coleman and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph being the three best guys left on Cincy's board.
Round 1 (24th overall)
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Russell Bodine has had his chances, and the need to upgrade at the position has become apparent. Kelly is the top center on our board, and the scheme fit couldn't be better. The senior is a mauler in the run game and had one of the more dominant stretches we saw from a center all year leading up to the national title game.
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Coleman is more than just a speedster, and if he lasts until pick No. 24, I imagine the Bengals would be ecstatic to hand a card in with his name on it. Coleman was on pace to be the top-graded receiver last year by a mile when Seth Russell was healthy. Even with a third-string quarterback under center, Coleman still managed 3.97 yards per route run, the third-highest total in the FBS.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
With Reggie Nelson walking to Oakland, the safety position next to George Iloka has an opening. Joseph is the only safety outside of Jalen Ramsey (who played the position in 2014) we’ve deemed worthy of a possible first-round selection. The former Mountaineer may have been a lock first-rounder if he hadn’t missed most of his senior season. He was playing out of his mind with five interceptions in four games before being lost for the year with a knee injury.
It's hard to argue with either of those three guys other than maybe Joseph since safety isn't that big of a need, not to mention Joseph is coming off an ACL tear. Would the Bengals actually spend back-to-back first-round picks on guys with messed-up knees?
It is worth noting that the Bengals tend to spend high draft picks on guys they meet with, and both Coleman and Joseph met with them, but not Kelly (at least reportedly).
In Round 2, PFF has Alabama corner Cyrus Jones, Penn State defensive tackle Austin Johnson and Rutgers receiver Leonte Carroo being the best players available.
Round 2 (55th overall)
Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama
Jones has all the tools to be a slot cornerback right away and potentially grow into a full-time starter on the outside. He was the seventh-highest-graded cornerback in the country last year, but his height (5-foot-10) will push him down a bit.
Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
Johnson had the second-best run-defense grade of any nose tackle in the FBS last year. His best fit is as a one-technique, a position that Cincinnati uses as much as any team in the NFL. With Domata Peko losing steam in his early 30s, Johnson could bring some pop back to the Bengals' run defense.
Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Carroo is another guy that may have gone higher if he could have stayed healthy the past two years. In only 363 snaps a season ago, the Rutgers wideout averaged 4.11 yards per route run, the highest figure of anyone in the draft class. At the Senior Bowl, he posted the highest win percentage of any receiver in the one-on-ones.
Cornerback is quietly a big need for the Bengals heading into the draft. Dre Kirkpatrick was way too inconsistent as a first-time starter and is a free agent next year. We've already seen how much other teams are willing to massively overpay for average/above average Bengals.
And fellow starter Darqueze Dennard hasn't shown he can stay healthy for a full season of work. That's your starting cornerback tandem heading into next season, so don't be shocked to see an early pick spent on someone at that position.
Going into Round 3, the Bengals are left with Texas A&M corner De'Vante Harris, BYU defensive end Bronson Kaufusi and Tulsa receiver Keyarris Garrett.
Round 3 (87th overall)
De'Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Harris was one of the stingier corners in the country last year, allowing only 275 yards in 877 snaps. He has a reckless streak, though, and lacks the pure speed to get away with it in the NFL. There is definitely upside here for a mid-rounder, however.
Bronson Kaufusi, DE, BYU
The Bengals certainly have a mold for their defensive ends, and it's one that Kaufusi fits. He might not be the physical freak that Margus Hunt was coming out, but Kaufusi is a much more polished football player. Kaufusi was tops among all interior players in pass-rushing productivity last season.
Keyarris Garrett, WR, Tulsa
Garrett is a physically-imposing receiver at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He's also got some speed to burn, and was one of the most productive deep receivers a year ago. His 725 yards on deep passes finished as second-most in the FBS last season.
While there may be bigger needs, don't underestimate how big of a need defensive end is. The only two proven guys on the roster are Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Behind them are relative unknowns Will Clarke and Marcus Hardison, followed by Margus Hunt who has yet to do anything at this point in his career.
That's why a guy like Kaufusi could be a target in Round 2 or 3. PFF has him going in Round 3, but a lot of the projections and draft rankings have him as a Round 2 pick. He's not been mentioned much to this point as a potential target for the Bengals, but he fits the bill in what they like in their ends.
This past season, the 6'6", 285-pound Kaufusi racked up 64 tackles and 11 sacks to go with six quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery. He'd be a great third end to rotate with Dunlap and Johnson and give the Bengals some extra spice to their pass rush.
Be sure to read the full PFF Bengals Big Board. Of the players mentioned above, which combination of guys would you most like to see the Bengals end up with? I'm going with Kelly, Carroo and Kaufusi.