The Bengals’ cornerback position is a peculiar one. The team has spent three first round Draft picks at this spot since 2012, selecting Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson III. In addition, the Bengals have been fielding Adam Jones, acquired in 2010 after stints with the Titans and Cowboys, as a primary starter. But, Jones showed his age in 2016 and has yet to solve his off-the-field issues. The Bengals could opt to part ways with him this offseason, and if not, it’s likely he’ll spend time suspended in 2017.
In addition to all of that potential star-power, the Bengals have Josh Shaw and KeiVarae Russell available, shoring up the rest of the depth. Shaw has proven himself a reliable backup since he was drafted by the Bengals in 2015, while Russell has immense potential as a former third round pick by the Chiefs in 2016 who failed to learn the playbook, but caught on with the Bengals and recorded an interception in his only career NFL snap on defense.
It would seem as though the Bengals have a solid cornerback corps going forward, but that is not entirely true. In addition to Jones’ long-term status with the team being questionable, Kirkpatrick will be an unrestricted free agent in just over a month. If the Bengals do not re-sign him, and Jones does not improve both on- and off-the-field, cornerback depth is going to be a serious problem. The hope is that Dennard and Jackson III can step up in 2017, but even if we assume that happens, there would still be two depth positions that need to be filled.
If the Bengals are looking to shore up the depth in the Draft, Mel Kiper’s annual Draft position rankings provide a solid blueprint. With the No. 9 overall pick and 11 total picks this year, the Bengals could realistically take any of these players, if they feel the player could be a hit on the team’s roster.
**1. Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
Purely from an athletic perspective, Lattimore might be the best cornerback prospect in a very long time. Receiving comparisons to Vontae Davis, who has developed into a solid cornerback in the NFL, there don’t appear to be any major holes in his game. The one concern was his being beaten by the speediest receivers. He has mastered the fundamentals of being a shutdown corner in only one year of starting experience, which might be the main drawback for him. His lack of flexibility when covering deep routes could hurt him in the draft and the Bengals would likely want to trade down a few spots if he is their target. However, given the high required investment, the Bengals should only select him if they believe there will definitely be an open position for a starting cornerback in 2017.
*2. Teez Tabor (Florida)
Tabor can play. He has always excelled when paired up with other great cornerbacks like Quincy Wilson or Vernon Hargreaves, but his nine career interceptions tell you all you need to know. He could use some time developing better judgement and better awareness, but if you’re a wide receiver, you don’t want to be targeted with him in the area. Per ESPN, Tabor was kicked out of practice for a week and suspended for the Gators’ season opener due to getting into a fight with teammate C'yontai Lewis during practice. He was also suspended in 2015 for one game for violating a University Athletic Association policy. Due to his drawbacks, he might be available with the Bengals’ second round pick, but his upside is tremendous, and he could end up getting selected in round one.
*3. Quincy Wilson (Florida)
Paired up with the productive anomaly that is Tabor, Quincy Wilson is the safer cornerback prospect out of Florida. He might not possess the high level of production or elite athleticism of his counterpart, but he is a much better decision maker who plays with both his body and his brains to get the most out of his game. His nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is exactly the kind of thing the Bengals typically look for in a prospect. Like Tabor, he might be taken in the first round, depending on how many teams feel a heavy need at cornerback, but he could also be available with the Bengals’ second round pick. Personally, in opposition to Kiper’s list, if both Tabor and Wilson are available at pick No. 41 and the Bengals are choosing between them, I would want them to take Wilson.
**4 Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
The Bengals love taking Alabama prospects, and already have one at the cornerback position in Kirkpatrick. Like Kirkpatrick, Humphrey possesses size, speed, and physicality. In the NFL, that’s the perfect trifecta of skills for the position. However, he is almost certainly going to be limited to outside cornerback play. He has a tendency to lose track of the ball while focusing too much on the receiver to cover the middle of the field. He is also very well experienced on special teams, which should pique the Bengals’ interest. He is another cornerback who could go in the first round, but might be available for the Bengals to select at No. 9, like Tabor and Wilson.
5. Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)
Tankersley might be the exact opposite of Humphrey. While he doesn’t quite measure up as a deep cover corner, he has the ballskills, vision, and length to be an absolute nightmare in the middle of the field. He is almost certainly a second round prospect who could theoretically fall to the Bengals’ third round pick if other teams are scared off by some of the less-developed areas of his technique.
Here’s the rest of Kiper’s top 10:
6. *Sidney Jones, Washington
7. Tre'Davious White, LSU
8. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
9. Desmond King, Iowa
10. *Gareon Conley, Ohio State
One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2016 season.