Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin was instrumental in helping assemble a Bengals team that made five straight playoff trips from 2011-2015.
Now, Tobin is not only looking to help get Cincinnati back into the postseason in 2017 after a dreadful 6-9-1 campaign in 2016, but also push to get this team over the playoff hump and into the Super Bowl.
That won’t be easy with so many lingering issues throughout the roster, not to mention several critical free agents needing to be re-signed. Regardless of happens when guys like Andrew Whitworth, Dre Kirkpatrick and Kevin Zeitler hit free agency, Tobin has the luxury of as many as 11 draft picks this year to reload the roster. That’s why he’s anticipating a little more change than usual this offseason in terms of rookies who make the team.
“There will be changes. There always are,” Tobin told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ve got a lot of draft choices. We’re going to get to 90 (players), we’re going to get to the best 90 that we can find and then we’re going to let that 90 compete to see who the 53 are going to be.”
Tobin also touched on something that many fans point to as a reason the Bengals haven’t succeeded in the past: waiting too long to phase out veterans and not taking a chance on young players when the time is right.
“Whether they’re young, whether they’re veterans, we’re going to keep the best 53,” Tobin said. “From our standpoint, we’re always looking to add to the group and this year will be no different. There might be a little more addition to the group from the outside, from the college game.”
One of those draft picks could end up being a kicker. Despite the team re-signing both Jon Brown and Randy Bullock, Tobin anticipates there being more competition
“There’s going to be a competition. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody,” Tobin said. “We’re going to evaluate all the rookies. We’re going to continue to evaluate the free agent kickers and if we see opportunities for increased competition we’ll do that. I think Randy’s well aware of that, that this is a competition. He did enough with us to warrant being part of that competition.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him compete. But it’s certainly going to be an open competition, and the one that wins is the one that wins. We’re open to anybody there at this point.”
It’s safe to say a kicker won’t be the Bengals’ first round pick at No. 9 overall. Tobin noted that the Bengals will want someone who can step in right away, even though that goes against what the Bengals traditionally do in making their rookies sit and learn before being thrust into action. Of course, there have been plenty of instant-impact rookies over the years, especially when the Bengals are drafting as high as they are. A.J. Green and Andy Dalton were the Bengals’ first two draft picks the last time the team drafted inside the top 10 and those picks couldn’t have turned out much better.
“We’ll have to make the right pick for us,” Tobin said. “He’ll have to fit what we want to do, whether it’s on offense or defense, and he’ll have to be the type of guy that fits into our team. But it’s an important pick and obviously the higher you pick the more that’s on the line. Ideally we want to pick a guy that can come in and contribute to us immediately. We’ll be looking at all those things.”
While the Bengals will look to add future stars in this year’s draft, they’ll also need more contributions from their previous draft classes in order to get back to the playoffs. Guys like Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III need to live up to their first-round billing to help get this team back atop the AFC North and in the postseason, despite not seeing the field much in 2016, or at all in the case of Jackson.
“We’ve got real high hopes for all those guys. We think they’re going to be big pieces for what we do this year,” Tobin said of Dennard and Jackson. “We want them to stay healthy. It’s hard not to get William some work this year, so he kind of comes into this year as still a rookie, and so he’s going to have to overcome some of the things that rookies do. I think he’ll do that. But he’s a guy we’re certainly excited about. Darqueze I think is starting to grow his role and if he can stay healthy and up and going I think you’ll see a big role increase for him.”
But of all the recent first-round picks Cincinnati has made, Cedric Ogbuehi has been far and away the most underwhelming. He rarely played as a rookie, then was benched midway through the 2016 season before finishing the year on I.R.
His shortcomings and not having a consistent right tackle this past season proved costly in far too many close losses, but Tobin is confident the former 24th-overall pick will bounce back.
“We’ve got a lot of regard for Cedric and his ability that he has,” Tobin said. “I think he’s made of the right stuff to bounce back, get his confidence back and have a really productive career for us. As you saw, he’s rare in a lot of ways and I think it’s just a matter of getting on the field and getting comfortable in the role that he ends up in, wherever that is.“
Given how well the Bengals have done in the draft and with keeping their own free agents recently, there’s no reason we should doubt Tobin’s ability to help the Bengals succeed this offseason.
“I think we’ll bounce back,” Tobin said of the Bengals’ outlook. “I think we have a great leadership core and certainly a talented staff. I don’t worry about us being back. While it was a disappointment (the 2016 season) we’re still excited for what this year holds.”