Dating back to the 2003 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals have made 124 draft selections since Marvin Lewis became the head coach. During those 14 drafts certain trends have emerged showing which positions the Bengals place more of an emphasis on when drafting. This gives us a good indication which positions the team places more of a priority on – since all positions are not created equal.
So with this in mind, and including the 2016 NFL Draft, which positions do the Bengals place the biggest emphasis on when drafting?
To do this, we first assigned every draft pick a score from 1 to 7. Every first round pick got a score of "7", every second round pick got a score of "6", and so on with seventh round picks getting a score of "1". Scores of zero were given for each player not drafted. After each draft pick was allocated a score, we summed up all of the scores to get a total for each position.
The second step is to realize that some positions will inherently require more picks, because there are more of them on the field at any given time. For example, the Bengals will typically have three linebackers on the field, but only one center – so you would expect that the team would draft more linebacker than centers, and so on. So we divide the score from the first step by the typical number of starters on the field to get a relative value for each individual position.
For example, if the total for quarterbacks is 22, and only one quarterback plays on a typical play, 22 divided by one is 22. Similarly, if the linebacker score is 61, but the team usually has three linebackers on the field, then 61 divided by three is 20 (rounded).
Now that we have a number for each position, we can color code them for ease of reading, and put them in this fancy graphic below. The darker the green, the higher the emphasis the Bengals place on the position during the draft. The darker the red, the less emphasis the Bengals place on the position during the draft.
Positions the Bengals place the MOST emphasis on when drafting:
The Bengals have used five first round picks on cornerbacks (Johnathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson), which represents more than one-third of their entire cornerback selections. This position certainly has the team’s attention early and often. The Bengals continued this trend in 2016 with the selection of William Jackson in round one.
The Bengals have used 21 draft picks on wide receivers, which is 50 percent more than any other position in the draft. They have used five picks in the third round on wide receivers, and eight picks in the first three rounds on wide receivers. Essentially at least once every other year, the Bengals are using a pick in the top three rounds on a wide receiver. Seven times in the last twelve drafts, the Bengals have selected at least two wide receivers, including 2016 with Tyler Boyd and Cody Core.
Tight End is a position that seems a little unexpected for being so green (meaning having a high score), but it is boosted by a pair of first round picks in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert which give it the counter-intuitively high emphasis.
With the first priority spent on the passing game with people to catch the ball and people to stop folks from catching the ball, the team’s secondary priority is also spent on the passing game. The next highest ranked positions are protecting the quarterback, pressuring the quarterback, and the actual quarterback.
Offensive tackles are the next highest position focused on by the Bengals, who have selected more tackles than guards and centers combined.
Including the offensive tackles, defensive ends to rush the passer, and quarterbacks are given priority on draft day. Running backs are given equal priority to these positions, but there is something of interest not to be underestimated – the Bengals emphasis on running backs in the passing game. The Bengals have used four picks on running backs in the top two rounds, and three of them (Chris Perry, Kenny Irons, and Giovani Bernard) were considered to be very good assets in the passing game – perhaps more so than actual what they were projected to provide as rushers.
Positions the Bengals place the LEAST emphasis on when drafting:
If the Bengals’ emphasis during the draft is on the outside, one can easily see with the red boxes, that the Bengals place the least relevance right up the middle. The positions most associated with promoting and stopping the running game are largely neglected by the Bengals in the draft.
Despite early selections on Kevin Zeitler and Eric Steinbach, the offensive guard position is the most neglected position during the draft. Those two guards are the only two drafted in the first three rounds over the last 14 years by the Bengals. The Bengals have only drafted five guards, and with two guards on the line, that means only 2.5 players per guard position have been drafted over a 14 year span, including Christian Westerman in Round 5 this year. Along with guard, the center position is also terribly neglected during the draft. The Bengals have never selected a center before the fourth round in the Marvin Lewis era.
In addition to the interior of the offensive line, the safety position has been largely ignored. Over the past 14 drafts, only three safeties have been selected before round five, and none have been selected in the first round.
After these positions, the defensive tackles and linebackers rank as the next most disregarded positions. In the Marvin Lewis era, the team has never drafted a round one defensive tackle, and have selected only three in the first three rounds over that 14 year span. Regarding linebackers, the Bengals average one drafted per season, but in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense, the position has the highest need of quantity with three starters. The majority of the Bengals’ linebacker picks are in the middle rounds, with only one ever taken in the first round. Keep in mind, in 2015, the Bengals had three undrafted linebackers on the roster.
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Ultimately, the Bengals philosophy on building a roster is pretty apparent. They are a team that focuses on building from the outside in. Their biggest draft focus is used to secure the passing game and defending the passing game, with a much lower regard for the interior of the offense and defense, and the running game.
The next time the Bengals get stuffed on third and one, or pass on a defensive tackle until round four, or a linebacker until the third round, we'll now have a better understanding on why this happens.