For virtually the entire lead up to the draft, almost no one was talking about University of Houston cornerback William Jackson III being a potential candidate for the Bengals in the first round. Cincy Jungle's own Anthony Cosenza did predict the Bengals would pick him up in his three round mock draft back in early March, but even in this case he was only seen as a second round prospect.
Cornerback could actually be considered one of the more pressing needs for the team in this year's draft. Following a turbulent offseason, the Bengals don't seem to be interested in bringing back veteran cornerback Leon Hall. However, with three former first round draft picks in Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, and Dre Kirkpatrick already on the team, does it really make sense continue stacking this position with talent in lieu of other positions?
Leon Hall not returning to the team leaves a pretty significant hole at cornerback depth. Jackson is an athletic and highly productive player who lead the nation in passes broken up last year with 23. He's a tall cornerback at 6'0" with the kind of length to be able to get in the way of most passes. He can keep up with quick and agile receivers like Antonio Brown, Breshad Perriman, and Mike Wallace. He can be a ballhawk when he wants to, so the Bengals could potentially be getting a playmaker on top of a player who can shut down speedy receivers.
Furthermore, a lot of people were talking about how much the Pittsburgh Steelers liked Jackson. No one wants to see the team making picks based on upsetting division rivals, but keeping them from picking up a player who could have been a great fit is certainly a plus. With Hall seemingly on his way out, the Bengals are probably keeping their defensive backfield as one of the most talented in the NFL with this pick.
Physicality is a pretty big deal in the AFC North. Unfortunately, Jackson seems to have a problem against physical receivers. Not to mention, there were plenty of players left on the board at other positions who may have fit the Bengals' scheme better. For example, UCLA outside linebacker Myles Jack (though his injured knee is clearly scaring teams), Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark, and Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed were all available. Ultimately, it's hard to say just exactly what the Bengals were looking to do with this pick, but it seems that most of their plans were busted when the Redskins decided to surprise a lot of people by picking up TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson.
With the improbable run on receivers that happened right before the Bengals' pick, you can probably guess that they were a bit surprised at what their big board looked like when pick No. 24 rolled around. It's no secret that they had some interest in Jackson, as they hosted him for a visit earlier this month. The bigger shock comes in the fact that they passed up guys like Clark, Reed, Spence, Ragland, and Jack to pick up a player who is admittedly talented, but at a position that wasn't really considered a first round need.
Purely in terms of talent, this was a very good pick. Jackson can turn on a dime without losing speed and is tall enough to be able to get in the way of every pass that he's near. Arguably, he was the most talented cornerback available when the Bengals picked. Now, there's no need for the team to take a cornerback throughout the rest of the draft, and you might even be able to justify not taking another player in the defensive backfield at all. Still, you have to wonder how much he can actually help with three first round cornerbacks already on the roster.