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Bengals Draft: Day 2 addresses needs but adds questions too

Reflecting on the selections that the Bengals made at wide receiver and linebacker during the second and third rounds of the 2016 NFL draft.

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After helplessly witnessing the wide receiver pool quickly deplete during the first round, Cincinnati waited until the second to draft their wide receiver -- Tyler Boyd, who broke several of Larry Fitzgerald's collegiate records at Pitt. My initial reaction? Boyd is Cincinnati's answer to losing Mohamed Sanu; though Boyd represents stronger athleticism than his predecessor coming out of college.

"He's probably more productive than (what Sanu) was in college, but he had maybe more opportunities than Mo had at Rutgers," head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters Friday night.

"I feel like I'm best in the slot or outside. They can move me around a lot. Or, even line up in the backfield, so I can get mismatches with linebackers. I feel like I'm a great aspect into that program." -Tyler Boyd

Boyd has a decent frame, runs good routes (offsetting the perceived lack of high-end speed) and has a competitive fire that fans appreciate out of players. On the other hand, according to scouting reports, Boyd needs to work on using his body to post-up defenders; something that can be learned with quality coaching.

Cincinnati expects Boyd to hit the ground running, primarily playing from the slot while learning the outside positions as he develops.

"He struck me as a guy that can play slot early, and learn the outside spot and be productive out there as we go," offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said Friday. "He's played a lot of slot. He's very familiar with where the bodies are coming from down in there. And he's got good vision, football IQ and instincts to avoid and get up field."

"I feel like I'm best in the slot or outside. They can move me around a lot. Or, even line up in the backfield, so I can get mismatches with linebackers. I feel like I'm a great aspect into that program," Mohamed Sanu Boyd said.

An interesting development surfaced Friday when Boyd, who has lived in Pittsburgh most of his life, admitted to being a Steelers fan and being keenly aware of how nasty the rivalry has turned.

"I definitely rooted for the Steelers. That's my hometown team. But at the end of the day, I'm going to sacrifice myself for the team who picked me and who would rather have me. So I'm going to have to completely go at the Steelers and cause them all hell," said Boyd.

"I'm strongly aware (about the rivalry). Some of my family members and friends are all Steelers fans. But at the end of the day, they're going to always root for me and cheer for me. So, it is what it is. I'm really blessed for everyone to be on my side. And if they don't support me and have my jersey on, I know deep down that they care 100 percent about me."

Cincinnati also selected Utah State linebacker Nick Vigil in the third round, addressing a need for depth that's also inviting mixed reviews. A quick disclaimer: Utah State games are limited in Ohio, and even if they were on the television, I'm not sure I'd watch them anyway. While I haven't seen Vigil play live (and if I did, I don't remember much), it appears Cincinnati jumped on Vigil, who projected himself as a fourth-round pick, a bit early.

"My agent said there's a pretty good chance, depending on how the draft plays out, that I could go in round three," Vigil said Friday night. "But we were kind of expecting more of a fourth round. He said that I could go in the middle of the third to the latter of the third, all the way to the middle of the fifth round."

Nick Vigil

Vigil also pointed out that Cincinnati hadn't contacted him since the National Combine in February, adding that the Bengals weren't a team he thought was interested. "It was a surprise to me," he said.

During Friday's press conference, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther made an unfavorable comment on two fronts, saying that, "At this point in the draft, we're trying to challenge the back end of our roster, whether it be the sixth linebacker or fourth or fifth corner, and that's how those guys come in. They develop on special teams."

This comment caused minor confusion, suggesting that a third-round pick is used to challenge players that were already on the roster. Clearly the team likes Vigil and common sense refuses to believe that this is the scope of the story.

Special teams is clearly a rite of passage in Cincinnati, with such extremity and consistency that mentioning it seems insulting. And clearly Vigil will have an opportunity to play defense, especially with this "foaming at the mouth" appreciation Cincinnati has for his talents.

"Nick Vigil gives us another player that showed a lot of versatility. He's been an inside, downhill linebacker at Utah State in the middle of the defense, scraping, playing over-the-top and through blocks, and he's done a great job," head coach Marvin Lewis said during the press conference after the pick. "He's a smart kid, you can tell he understands the passing game, playing in passing lanes, and he has been productive there. He's a good fit for us. He brings the ability of speed on special teams and playmaking and all the things that you want of a young linebacker as he comes in the National Football League."

There is some consternation with Cincinnati's history of drafting linebackers though, especially during the Marvin Lewis era. Whether it's an unfortunate injury, an ambiguous moral center or the abject failure of a kid's inability to replace an experienced veteran, Cincinnati's attempts to develop drafted linebackers has been questionable.

Since Rey Maualuga, a second-round pick during the 2009 NFL draft, Cincinnati has drafted players like Roddrick Muckelroy and Dontay Moch (who was an outside linebacker, pass rusher, back to a linebacker), fourth (2010) and third (2011) round picks respectively, who played a combined 15 games with the Bengals. Marquis Flowers, selected in the sixth round (2014), could be concluding his career in Cincinnati this summer if he doesn't have a strong training camp performance.

There is hope that P.J. Dawson could break the cycle among drafted linebackers, hopefully rewarding the team with significant defensive contributions. However, when Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey, the recently released A.J. Hawk and the recently departed Emmanuel Lamur crowd your opportunities for playing time, you have to wait for those windows to open -€” even if they did sign a veteran (Karlos Dansby) and draft a linebacker (Vigil) to make it even more crowded. And yes, I suspect Guenther's point about challenging players was meant for Dawson, as well as Flowers.

Regardless, the sustaining theme that Cincinnati is poor at drafting linebackers continues. Consider that the expected opening day lineup will feature Vincent Rey, an undrafted free agent, Karlos Dansby, a free agent signed during the offseason, and Rey Maualuga, a second-round pick from 2009, with Vontaze Burfict, another undrafted free agent, waiting for his suspension to expire. Former linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, now with the Vikings, was a significant contributor during passing situations and another undrafted free agent.

The Bengals valued Vigil enough to use a precious third-round pick. And since he was recently promoted from prospect to rookie, who knows how this will play out. But on the surface, it's questionable. Repeating history is a horrible argument because how would today impact yesterday when the circumstances and experiences are different? Yet, here we are, making the same argument we've made since 2009.