For years, the Bengals have been known as a team who love to build through the draft and make savvy moves that leave other teams kicking themselves. One thing that they're particularly good at doing is finding talent late in the draft that everyone else passed on for one reason or another.
For example, they've found current and former starters like Geno Atkins, George Iloka, Marvin Jones, Chinedum Ndukwe, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh all in the third round or later. Last year, they picked up Derron Smith in the sixth round, despite him being projected by many experts as a late second, early third round prospect. Who might end up being the Bengals' big draft steal this year? Here's a list of potential candidates:
Miles Killebrew, SS, Southern Utah
The 6'2" 217 pound safety out of the small-time Big Sky conference is probably going to be available in the third, fourth, or maybe even fifth round. He's an extremely talented, vicious safety who looks the part with the game film to back it up. If the Bengals are looking for someone to shore up their problem with missed tackles (120 in 2015), Killebrew has both the form and desire to make every hit count. He was regularly relied upon at Southern Utah to lead the defense and get all of the defensive backs situated in their assignments. He seems like he's got virtually every trait a team like the Bengals would love.
Why isn't he being talked about more? In this case, the primary knock against Killebrew seems to be his instincts. He's more of a read then react kind of guy, rather than someone who will naturally gravitate toward the ball. It can get him into sticky situations on the field because, by the time he's figured the play out, a quarterback with a quick release might have already dumped the ball off. However, this is the kind of thing that can be improved upon simply by practicing over and over again at the highest level. He's a bit of a project in that aspect, but the Bengals can probably afford to wait while he develops. They seem interested, as they already met with him at the combine.
Scooby Wright III, ILB, Arizona
The Bengals probably took care of their immediate need at the linebacker position by re-signing Vincent Rey and bringing in Karlos Dansby. However, Dansby is 34-years-old and they've got another veteran linebacker, A.J. Hawk, who is 32. Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict are both under the 30 mark, so they probably don't need to find a linebacker of the future right this second, but it wouldn't hurt to add some competition in the backfield with a late round pick.
Wright is a guy who they can probably pick up as late as the sixth round. He's kind of like the polar opposite of Killebrew in that he's got the kind of instincts to be a top player in the NFL, but can get knocked over easily due to poor technique. He's isn't really a safe bet on the field by any means, but he doesn't have any particularly notable red flags to be worried about. With the right training and in the right system, he could really flourish.
Jalen Mills, FS, LSU
Not many analysts can seem to agree on where they project Mills to be drafted. He's been projected as high as the third round (CBS.com) and as low as a sixth or seventh round pick (NFL.com). In my seven round mock draft from last month, I had the Bengals picking him up in the third round. He's an incredibly talented safety with tight coverage skills and a good enough frame to rarely get beaten.
However, he could stand to improve on his tackling technique and he doesn't really have the speed to keep up with some of the faster receivers in the NFL. He's been talked about as more of a slot corner than a true free safety, which is something the Bengals could use since they don't seem to really be making an effort to re-sign Leon Hall. Personally, I think he's worth taking in the third round, but there seems to be a chance that they can wait a few rounds and still pick him up. What a steal it would be!
Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA
This year's wide receiver class is deep, so it's no wonder that a talented guy like Payton has flown under the radar. At 6'1", 207 pounds, he's a thick target who can fight off coverage to make the big play. Despite questions about his athleticism, he recorded 14 catches of 25+ yards in 2015.
Those questions about his athleticism are exactly why he's projected to be taken as late as the sixth round by some analysts. Speed used to be one of the biggest knocks on him, but he erased those doubts by running a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine. Questions still remain about his functional speed on the field, but he's just simply got too much raw talent to completely ignore in the draft. He could very well be the next Marvin Jones for the Bengals.
Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
Hargrave has displayed the kind of motor and low center of gravity that can truly be fearsome in the NFL. He's very athletic and very productive, having put together 16 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss in his college career. One of the biggest knocks against him is that he's a bit undersized at 6'1", 307 pounds with 32" arms, and 9 5/8" hands. Then again, you know who else was criticized for being only 6'1" with 32" arms and 9 5/8" hands? Geno Atkins. Hargrave weighs in at about 16 pounds heavier than Atkins did, but he's athletic enough to make up for it. He'll probably be available for the Bengals in the fourth round, where he could prove to be a very smart pick.