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2017 Senior Bowl: Players to watch for Bengals

We take a look at some of the NFL prospects Bengals fans should be keeping an eye on during Saturday’s Senior Bowl.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl-North Practice Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

With the NFL offseason almost here for all 32 teams (with just the Patriots and Falcons still to meet in Super Bowl 51), the focus is shifting toward the 2017 NFL Draft and the draftable prospects.

The Scouting Combine, college pro days and all-star games are all part of the pre-draft process, and the Senior Bowl is the next major event. Saturday’s game will feature a host of draftable prospects, some of whom will sneak into the first round of April’s draft, but more of these guys will be Day 2-3 picks.

Last year, 87 of the 253 draft picks (34.4 percent) participated in the 2016 Senior Bowl. Let’s take a look at which ones the Bengals should be keeping an eye on:

Jon Toth, C, Kentucky

The Bengals badly need an upgrade at center, but I can’t see them spending a Day 1 or 2 pick on one, which means someone will have to emerge from the latter rounds and unseat the enigmatic Russell Bodine.

That could be where All-SEC performer Jon Toth comes into play. A full-time starter in all four years of college, Toth was named first-team All-SEC at center by the AP this past season. He’s a technician with enough power to hold up against NFL linemen, though he probably needs a year in a pro weight room before starting.

Bodine has one year left on his deal, so the Bengals could slowly bring a guy like Toth along and let Bodine walk in 2018. That’s the best we can hope for in terms of upgrading Bodine at this point.

Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan

Taco Charlton will be the Michigan pass-rusher getting all the buzz, but don’t sleep on his running mate. Wormley was the total package in 2016 season, finishing with 40 tackles and six sacks while earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches. The Bengals are also reportedly impressed with him.

He was named to Pro Football Focus’ College Big Ten Team of the Week for his performance against UCF, which included seven tackles, two blocked field goals and a sack.

At 6-5 and 298 pounds, Wormley already has the frame of a Bengals defensive end, though he primarily played as a 3-4 end with the Wolverines, so there’s some debate as to how he fits a 4-3 defense, but he’s good enough to be an asset for the Bengals wherever he plays.

Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

This is an easy call since the Bengals went ahead and met with Zay Jones this week. One of the most dominant receivers in college football, Jones broke the FBS career record for receptions this past season while leading all FBS receivers in receptions (158), receptions per game (13.2), receiving yards (1,746) and receiving yards per game (145.5).

Jones has had a great week of practice in Mobile, which should only help endear him to the Bengals coaches more since they’ve been scouting the event. He’s someone to watch for in Rounds 2-3 if the Bengals feel they need more help at receiver.

Nathan Peterman, QB, Pitt

The Bengals may need another quarterback in the draft if they’re able to trade AJ McCarron, but don’t expect it to come until Day 3. That’s where Pitt’s Nathan Peterman could come in.

Peterman, who led the Panthers to wins over national champion Clemson and Big Ten champ Penn State, threw for 2,855 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. According to's rankings, he is the sixth-best quarterback in this draft and is projected to go in the fourth round.

The MMQB got some thoughts from an NFL scout who thinks Peterman could go from Day 3 project to franchise quarterback in the same way Kirk Cousins has in Washington.

We’ll begin with Peterman because he’s been by far the most impressive quarterback here. Says one evaluator who has studied Peterman extensively: “He reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins in this sense: He’s not going to blow you away with any of his traits, but he can do everything you need.”

Again, this is largely dependent on the Bengals trading McCarron, which they could make a strong effort to do this offseason. Then in 2-3 years, the Bengals can hopefully flip Peterman for a high draft pick in the same way they hope to with McCarron.

Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M

You probably know all about Aggies stud pass-rusher Myles Garrett, who should be the top pick in this year’s draft. However, Daeshon Hall quietly was a solid defensive end in his own right, racking up 11.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons and a team-high 12 quarterback hurries in 2016.

Hall measures in at about 6-6 and 260 pounds, so he’s right at the range where the Bengals like their defensive ends to be. And it shouldn’t be hard to get Hall, who CBS projects as a Round 4-5 prospect. He’s also having a good week in Mobile, so watch out for him in the later rounds for Cincinnati if they don’t draft a pass-rusher earlier.