We received a number of questions this week, which should have been expected given it's just days before the NFL Draft, and the anticipation of how the Bengals will improve their roster with rookies is growing. In this week's first mailbag installment, we looked at Mario Alford's possible roles in his second professional season, as well as some areas the team could take multiple players at a particular position when they approach the podium next weekend.
While one of the questions in this post once again revolve around the center position, the other asks us about how the Bengals can improve themselves with some lesser-heralded picks this year. Send us your questions every week to be answered in this regular feature!
@CincyJungle I see center & defensive tackle being two of our top 3 picks of need along with wr who are top centers that we could draft.— Eddie Moster (@EddieMoster1) April 23, 2016
The center position is one which fans have continuously pointed to this offseason. After moving up for Russell Bodine in 2014, the former University of North Carolina standout has had ups and downs with Cincinnati, prompting Bengals' faithful to ask for a change. For all of the good players Marvin Lewis has drafted over his previous 13 years, center has been a major bug-a-boo in the tenure.
This isn't to say Bodine is completely done as a pro, though. Some players take 3-4 years before hitting their NFL stride, and while Bodine has shown issues with missed blocks and poor snaps, he has flashed his highly-touted upper body strength and tenacity in multiple other instances. The question resides in if the flashes can become constants, or if he's always going to be an inconsistent NFL center.
I agree with Eddie on all fronts, in terms of his question. While some people believe taking a wide receiver in the first round is a cardinal sin because of it not being a position of necessity, when you lose two of your top players in a specific group, especially two who contributed frequently, it needs to be addressed early. I also agree with the need of talent in the middle of both lines when attempting to assert power in the AFC North.
While I'm not fully ready to give up on Bodine as a quality starter, the Bengals are in the unique position of needing to assess each starting position closely as such a winning club lately, as an effort to do whatever it takes to get over the playoff hump. With the third-year center asserting his position as a fan whipping boy and Kevin Zeitler potentially entering free agency, interior offensive linemen have secretly been thrust in the forefront of needs--again, especially in this division.
Those who have read my work recently should know I like USC's Max Tuerk. It isn't just because he's a west coast guy, though--he has the versatility the Bengals usually love versatility along both lines. He was initially recruited as a tackle, but necessity and a later assessment of his skill set pushed him inside where he excelled until he was injured. If Cincinnati wants a utility player on the line who has major upside with a relatively minimal investment (fourth round or so), Tuerk is the guy.
If the Bengals are looking for a mauler in the mold of Bodine, they need to look at Missouri's Evan Boehm. He's an intelligent grinder who could be had in the fourth or fifth rounds, and while he doesn't have the athleticism and versatility of Tuerk, he could be a tough matchup in the middle.
The top two prospects in the draft are Alabama's Ryan Kelly and Notre Dame's Nick Martin, so fans might be quick to point to these guys as the long-term answer at center. The former might require a first round selection, so Lewis and the Bengals need to ask themselves if center is the position they want to invest a high pick on--which is against Cincinnati's norm.
As you go down the list of prospects, Michigan State's Jack Allen, Iowa's Austin Blythe and UCLA's Jake Brendel are all late round and/or undrafted free agent possibilities. Most people look at defensive tackle and wide receiver as the biggest areas of need for replenishment for the Bengals. I think a swing offensive lineman who can ably play a number of positions, in an effort to alleviate the future loss of Zietler and/or more ineffectiveness from Bodine.
In this spirit, I like Tuerk and Martin, particularly with his brother's effectiveness in the NFL with the Cowboys, for the Bengals. Cincinnati likes players who can play multiple spots and I think these two have the highest ceiling with pro teams going forward and if they used a second or third on Martin or a fourth on Tuerk, fans should be excited. Otherwise, we're largely looking at long-term projects who are long shots to make an impact--and the Bengals have been there, done that.
@CincyJungle what late round role players could be great fits with the bengals?— JJ (@Asdfasdf247) April 23, 2016
Speaking of players like Allen, Blythe and Brendel, a number of late-round picks seem to be intriguing this year. For the Bengals, it will depend on how the rest of their first four or five picks play out this year, but every year teams find a gem who ends up bringing a contribution far higher than expected.
If we're looking at wide receiver, I've been banging the drum for Washington wide receiver Jaydon Mickens over the past few months, who could be had in the last couple rounds. Mickens, of course, would likely be the second of two potential Bengals receiver picks this year.
Some think that because of Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith's injury and the flow of news we've received in recent weeks, that he'll be around even later than initially anticipated. Though the Bengals have a number of immediate needs, even for a team that has made the playoffs six times in the past seven seasons, we don't know if linebacker is one they'll be targeting. Though Cincinnati is set for the immediate future, if Smith is around when some of the later rounds come around, he might be worth the gamble while he rehabs.
One guy who is really intriguing, given his late entrance in the draft and overall skill set is Iowa defensive lineman Drew Ott. At one point, Ott was looked at as a high round pick, but because of his rehabbing of hip and knee injuries this year, he has dropped dramatically. Ott opted for an effort to re-enter the collegiate ranks, but was denied and thus entered the draft process late. He's one of those "high motor" types, and could be a versatile 4-3 defensive lineman for the Bengals after their losing Wallace Gilberry in free agency to the Lions.
I also look at safety as a late round contributor. Whether it was Chinedum Ndukwe or Derron Smith in the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have used late round picks on potential contributors on the position. In fact since 2003, Lewis and Co. have selected six safeties in rounds 5-7. And, with Reggie Nelson bolting to the Raiders this offseason, guys like Clemson's Jayron Kearse, TCU's Derrick Kindred, and Notre Dame's Elijah Shumate could be on the team's radar on Saturday when day three arrives.
And, even though the team re-signed Adam Jones and drafted Josh Shaw last year, they could look for additional cornerback help. A poor man's version of Shaw in the draft this year who should be available on day three is Samford's James Bradberry. He was initially recruited as a safety by Arkansas State, but his eagerness to play corner made him transfer to a smaller school. Bradberry sounds like a lot corner and/or safety project, while Southern Utah's LeShaun Sims and the speedy and versatile Morgan Burns from Kansas State could also come in and contribute.
While the Bengals largely won't be looking for an immediate starter on day three, striking gold with their four picks on Saturday is crucial to the long-term success of the club. It's why Shaw and Smith from year's class are poised for bigger roles this year and why some of the team's best selections have come with their mid-round defensive tackle haul over the past 13 years.
Given the current format of the draft, I personally favor the lesser-heralded days two and three than the big show and hype created around a team's first round pick on Thursday night. For teams looking to re-build, a big quarterback prospect or game-changing defender are exciting necessities on night one, but the two subsequent days are where consistent winners continue to stock the cabinet.