By most accounts, the Bengals had one of the best drafts of any NFL team. That's pretty much par for the course for them, having not had a bad draft class in years. They currently sport 50 players on their roster who were originally drafted by the team.
This year, they had a particularly notable haul, picking up many players whom they had graded much higher than where they ended up getting them. However, their picks may have been even more savvy and well crafted than many of us thought, as discussed by Dave Lapham and Dan Hoard on the most recent Bengals Booth podcast.
"The No. 1 pick, Will Jackson, they had as a 1-B player meaning middle of the first round, they got him late in the first round." Hoard told Lapham, "Their next three picks all had second round grades."
Don't forget that the Bengals only had their original seven picks to work with in this year's draft, so they picked up guys whom they had second round grades on in the second, third, and fourth rounds.
It's unfortunate that the Bengals lost out on picking up some of the receiver talent they had their eyes on in the first round, especially when the three players they were looking at all went no more than 10 picks ahead of them. They ended up getting their receiver, but they had to improvise when things didn't work out as expected on Day 1.
"If wide receivers Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman, or Will Fuller had been there in the first round when the Bengals selected 24th, that would have been the pick." Hoard told Lapham, "They were all gone, so that's how the first round did not go their way."
"They ended up taking a player they had rated in the middle of the first round, Will Jackson." Lapham told Hoard, "It is also their belief, 100 percent belief as one person put it, that the Steelers would have taken him with the very next pick." You've got to love the Bengals' selection of a player like Jackson who adds a lot of talent to a position. "That's like the cherry on top of the sundae." He said, "you get a player that fits a need."
On the second day of the draft, the Bengals made up for missing out on their primary position of need with the selection of Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
"If the first round didn't go exactly as the Bengals had hoped, with respect to wide receivers, the second round round worked out because they had three receivers with second round grades." Hoard told Lapham, "Michael Thomas from Ohio State, Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma, and Tyler Boyd from Pitt. Boyd was still there when they went with the 55th overall pick. As one member of the front office put it, he was the last of the Mohicans."
"Their third round pick was linebacker Nick Vigil out of Utah State. He said after the pick that he was surprised to go in the third round." Lapham told Hoard, "Some of the so-called experts thought that he would go later. The Bengals had a second round grade on this kid. His athleticism jumps off the tape." Some fans have criticized this pick as a reach, but that's not how the Bengals saw it. It's also not how another team saw it, according to Lapham. "He was on the phone with the Green Bay Packers when the Cincinnati Bengals took him."
The Bengals really did their damage in the draft on Day 3, where they picked up multiple potential future starters including one particular player whom many mock drafters and analysts had a first or second round grade on, Andrew Billings. There's no telling if he would have continued to be available as the draft wore on, but they had to have been absolutely thrilled to see him still available when they picked in the fourth round.
"When the Bengals had re-organized their board going into Day 3 in the draft, they had Andrew Billings on top," Hoard told Lapham, "they had Westerman ninth." Both of these players ended up dropping for multiple reasons, but the Bengals managed to fill needs and gauge for the future at bargain bin prices throughout most of the third day.
"In the fifth round, the Bengals selected a guard who might be able to play center down the road, Christian Westerman." Hoard told Lapham."Throw in a guy like Cody Core, who the Bengals had graded in the fourth round, and they get him in the sixth round."
There was also talk from multiple sources of the Bengals considering a trade up for one of the receivers that they ended up missing out on. Some have retrospectively criticized the Bengals for not making the move given how things turned out, but don't talk tell that to Dan Hoard.
"The Bengals looked into the possibility a couple of times of moving up a few spots to get a player they were interested in." Hoard told Lapham, "Let's just say, for example, you've got to give up your fourth round pick in the draft to do that. Had they done that, they do not get Andrew Billings, a guy they had a second round grade on."