The Cincinnati Bengals are essentially out of the playoff race, but one question that does remain for this season is whether the team will have another top-10 selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Bengals, at 5-8, currently sit ninth in the draft standings. Cleveland would obviously get the first pick, with the Giants selecting second. The 49ers and Colts would have the third and fourth picks, followed by the Bears and Broncos. Cleveland owns Houston’s pick, which is currently seventh, and Tampa Bay is currently at No. 8.
NFL Draft order heading into Week 15
|6||Texans (pick belongs to CLE)||4||9||0||0.308||0.5121|
|Currently in playoffs|
|AFC Wild Card||Ravens||7||6||0||0.538||0.4589|
|AFC West||Chiefs (pick belongs to BUF)||7||6||0||0.538||0.4903|
|AFC WIld Card||Titans||8||5||0||0.615||0.4444|
|NFC Wild Card||Falcons||8||5||0||0.615||0.5534|
|NFC Wild Card||Panthers||9||4||0||0.692||0.5388|
Whatever the final draft order turns out to be, Cincinnati has a long list of needs that will need to be addressed in 2018, either through the draft or through free agency.
And given the Bengals’ history of not being a major player in free agency, most of their help will likely come through the draft.
With that being said, here’s a look at some of the Bengals’ biggest needs for 2018 as the 2017 season wraps up.
Probably the number one area of need is, of course, the offensive line. Although the line, with certain exceptions, has played better as the season progressed, Cincinnati still has major needs to address at both tackle positions.
Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has played better of late, but is still rated as one of the worst left tackles in the league. Right tackle Andre Smith has stabilized that position, but is getting up there in age.
Center Russell Bodine will be a free agent in 2018, and right guard Trey Hopkins is a career backup, at best. Clint Boling is a fixture at left guard and should be the focal point of the Bengals’ rebuild.
Several mock drafts have Cincinnati selecting Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams with its first pick in the draft, but Williams is currently rehabbing from a torn meniscus he suffered in September. The last time the Bengals selected a left tackle who was recovering from a major injury was in 2015, when they selected Ogbuehi.
How did that work out?
Despite his injury concerns, Williams has received high praise from scouts, and is compared favorably with San Francisco stalwart Joe Staley.
Another name Cincinnati might consider at that point is Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey. But McClinchey is not considered to be a top-10 selection, and the Bengals will probably have to add another couple of victories to their resume if they want to avoid over-reaching.
The same can be said of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who is considered to be a top-25 selection. Nelson, at 6’5” and 325 pounds, has the size Cincinnati covets and is probably the most talented and polished offensive lineman in the draft class.
Billy Price of Ohio State is probably the top center candidate available, and should be on the board when the Bengals pick at the top of the second round.
With Tyler Eifert expected to test the free agent waters, tight end also becomes an area of need for the Bengals. Tyler Kroft has proven to be a serviceable replacement, but does not have the ability to take over a game that Eifert brought. And the backups have not proven to be reliable, with C.J. Uzomah and Cethan Carter struggling to even get on the field.
South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, who is projected to be a late first round or early second round selection, is probably the cream of the college tight end crop. Hurst, at 6’5” and 250 pounds, will by a 25-year-old rookie after playing professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews may be the red-zone presence Cincinnati covets, but is projected as a second or third-round pick, at best. Andrews had 51 receptions for 848 yards and six touchdowns for the Sooners this year.
Darqueze Dennard is entering the final year of his rookie contract and the Bengals have a team option on Adam Jones for 2018. And, despite having four first-round cornerbacks on the roster, depth at the position has proven to be a problem for Cincinnati in 2017 after injuries to Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Denzel Ward of Ohio State is probably the top cornerback prospect on the board, but he will probably be gone by the time the Bengals turn their attention to the position.
A better option might be Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett, whose consistency and intelligence make him an intriguing possibility for the third round.
Kevin Minter has proven to be ineffective, at best, in the middle for the Bengals this year, and injuries to starters Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil has exposed Cincinnati’s lack of depth at the position.
Bengals’ linebackers have continued to struggle to cover the oppositions’ tight ends and running backs, and the Bears constantly exploited the middle of the field in the embarrassing loss Sunday afternoon.
Ohio State’s Jerome Baker may be just the answer Cincinnati is looking for. Baker is undersized at 6’1” and 225 pounds, but his athleticism and 4.5 speed in the 40 makes him a great fit as a will linebacker in the Bengals’ scheme. Baker should be on the board in the fourth round and, if nothing else, would add the kind of depth Cincinnati is seeking.
Another option might be Louisville outside linebacker James Hearns, who, at 6’3” and 249 pounds, has the size to make an immediate impact. Hearns had six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss for the Cardinals this year and could add another pass-rush element to the Bengals’ arsenal.
AJ McCarron is currently involved in a grievance that will determine whether he is a restricted or unrestricted free agent in 2018. If McCarron leaves the team, Cincinnati could be in the market for a backup quarterback.
The Bengals’ wide receiver corps drastically underperformed in 2017. A healthy John Ross may be the difference-maker in 2018, but Cincinnati would be well-advised to pick up at least one other capable receiver to make a push for a roster spot.
Injuries at the safety position have exposed the Bengals’ lack of depth at the position, although Clayton Fejedelem has done a journeyman’s job in place of the injured Shawn Williams.
A healthy and more experienced Brandon Wilson should be able to make an impact next year, but additional competition will only serve to strengthen the position.