An irony exists in the NFL: the fact that the Draft is one of the most popular events in the sport, yet it doesn't include any actual activity resembling the product the league puts out on the field. The NFL does a masterful job at striking a chord with its fanbase at a time during which they are starved for more football, and the spring event is gigantic proof of their grasp of the public's interest.
It's also an area in which the Cincinnati Bengals have excelled of late. On what is becoming an annual basis, the club gets almost unanimous high marks for their newest roster additions in the spring. The goal in the draft is to get three or four starters/regular contributors, regardless of what team you're speaking of, and it has been working out that way for the team since 2009.
The Draft is still on the minds of our readers and it's the focus of this week's mailbag. Send us your questions via Twitter or email to be featured in this post!
@CincyJungle With the Bengals notoriously sitting/developing rookies, who makes the biggest impact this year as a new guy?— Andre Edwards (@AndreEdwards06) May 27, 2016
Obviously, with seven players selected, the options are plentiful. But, with as deep of a roster the Bengals have, only a few of the 2016 group will have significant roles right away. It's part of a pattern with Marvin Lewis and his staff--picking out some rookies to have bigger roles, while others have to bide their time. Sometimes it's a blessing for the team, and other times, it seems as if it's a detriment to have some more talented guys waiting a couple of years before they contribute.
That being said, there appear to be three players set to have the biggest impact for 2016 in the three different phases of the game. There are also two additional players who I think have the potential to be the best long-term players for the club out of this Draft class.
Biggest Immediate Offensive Contributor: Tyler Boyd
The biggest need of the offseason for the Bengals, especially once Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency, was wide receiver. The team saw four wideouts get taken right before they went on the clock at No. 24, so they waited patiently and grabbed a guy in the second round they had high regard for in Boyd. Though it seems as if he'll have some trouble separating from defensive backs in the NFL, based on his college tape, he appears to have hands made of glue and will catch almost anything tossed his way.
Out of necessity, Boyd will get playing time early and often. At times, he could be a primary target in the slot or outside, but more often he will still take a backseat to A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and maybe even Giovani Bernard. Even so, I like this kid more than most fans seem to when they look at his skill set. I love the description given to him by ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay, calling him "silky smooth" as a route-runner, as that definitely shows when studying his Pitt film. If he grasps the playbook early on and shows football IQ beyond his years, he could be a great security blanket for Andy Dalton in 2016.
2016 Stat Projection: 51 catches, 610 yards, 3 touchdown receptions.
Basically, I'm more or less splitting the difference between the 2015 stats of Sanu and Jones--maybe leaning a little closer to Jones' numbers. Some don't feel he will get as many looks as I'm predicting, but I think he starts to become a bigger factor in the offense as the year wears on down the stretch.
Biggest Immediate Defensive Contributor: Andrew Billings
This may or may not be obvious, but one of the biggest steals of the draft will be a heavy rotator on the defensive line in 2016. The Bengals have largely had success with their mid-round defensive tackle picks, and while the coaches have the utmost respect for what Domata Peko and his previous 10 years of service have brought, Billings will be the starter once Peko hangs up the cleats.
Billings is a weight room animal and a run-stopper extraordinaire, but the knock on him in the draft process was a lack of pass rush ability and him being a two-down player in the NFL. I don't see the knock as prevalently as others do, and his 5.5 sacks last season speaks to a contradiction of the critics' slight. Remember that these are similar critics to the ones who said Geno Atkins was too small to be effective as a professional defensive tackle, though.
2016 Stat Projection: 27 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble.
He won't start over Peko in 2016, but he will likely be one of the first guys off the bench, especially with Brandon Thompson likely to start the year on the PUP List as he rehabs his knee. I do think when he's in the lineup with another specimen of strength and leverage in Atkins, the pocket should collapse in the middle of the offensive line because of the push they both should create.
Biggest Immediate Special Teams Contributor: Nick Vigil
Though he might be the least popular pick in the class among Bengals fans, he actually has a realistic shot at being one of the more productive rookies in the class. Upon being drafted, Paul Guenther infamously talked about how Vigil will be working to latch on to the back end of the positional roster, as well as starting off with special teams duty. Though it's not an ideal situation for a third round pick, it actually works out well because of the Bengals' roster strength and the veterans they already have at the position.
Vigil was a tackling machine in college, and his pre-Draft workouts showcased his quickness and agility. Going forward, his ability to play every linebacker spot will be a valuable asset, but for now, he'll likely be tracking down returners and covering kickoffs as his primary objective, with occasional spot duty on defense.
2016 Stat Projection: 11 total tackles, 1 for loss
Best Long-Term Prospects:
William Jackson III: Though he was a bit of a surprise when picked, Jackson has the skills to be the team's best overall corner of any they currently have--and there are a bunch of good ones in The Queen City. Adam Jones is at the end of his career, but he did sign a three-year deal this offseason, while other former first rounders Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard also appear to be ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. With the talent in the secondary, Jackson obviously included, teams should have a hard time throwing the football with success against Cincinnati. Just don't expect Jackson to man a starting job for at least a year--maybe even two or more.
Christian Westerman: The fact that the Bengals want Westerman to work at center and guard bodes well for his future with the club. Unfortunately, his long-term success hinges on some negatives. Whether it means the three-year Russell Bodine experiment is a failure, or that Kevin Zeitler isn't sticking around past his rookie contract, Westerman should have a place as a starter in the years ahead. For now, the other big Draft steal aside from Billings will be a backup swingman, but could very easily see his responsibility rise as he accumulates NFL time.