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Bengals mailbag: P.J. Dawson’s future, mock draft review and giving Justin Gilbert a shot

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On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, we received a number of interesting listener questions. Whether it was looking at draft possibilities, or the status of two veterans, fans want to know how the Bengals will improve in 2017.

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We are about a month away from the start of free agency, otherwise known as the kickoff to the next NFL year, and expectations on how the Bengals will operate vary. One of the regular segments we have done on The Orange and Black Insider has been our fielding of listener questions, with many of them revolve around the upcoming offseason activities.

This week, the questions ranged from asking about the future of a player currently on the Bengals roster and one former high pick outside of the club on whom they could take a chance. We also received a five-round mock draft, which proved to spur on interesting debates. Connor Howe, Scott Schultze and I all gave our perspectives on each of these topics.

You can submit yours to us every week in a number of different ways. We’re on Twitter @BengalsOBI and reachable via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. You can also grab our media on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, as well as on iTunes. All of material is accessible here at Cincy Jungle as well. Thanks for listening!

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Third-year linebacker P.J. Dawson was the focus of one of our listeners, as we all are curious of his career trajectory with the Bengals. After being one of the better linebacker prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dawson has struggled to get playing time in Cincinnati, with some low points of being released and then signed to the practice squad last year.

Some believe that the team will look at Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 9 overall, but whether or not he ends up in stripes, the Bengals’ group is in need of talent—be it from those already on the roster or more outside help. Dawson seems to have high upside and is entering that critical third year for his professional development, but he has a long road ahead in impressing Marvin Lewis and Co.

As we discussed Dawson’s future on the club, we all noted our concerns with his past. Rumblings from his time at TCU and while with the Bengals points to a reputation of a guy who doesn’t study film, is late to meetings and doesn’t necessarily give the effort in practice the coaches want from him. It was also a bit eye-opening that no team signed Dawson off of waivers, perhaps cementing some of the rumors about the reputation.

Because of scouting reports telling teams about the game film issue, Dawson was also known as a bit of a lone wolf on the field while with the Horned Frogs. It’s a wonder he was so productive if it’s true he was working outside of the TCU scheme, and it’s something that may have bled over to his time with the Bengals.

Most people seem to believe that Nick Vigil will see more time on defense in 2017, but will Dawson? The shenanigans we’ve heard vague reports about will need to be in the past and he’ll have to dive into the playbook this offseason. How the Bengals draft in April will also tell us a lot about him and others in the group.

On the positive side, Dawson is now going on his third offseason in the Bengals’ defensive system. If his freelancing ways can get reigned in, he could finally become a productive player for Cincinnati.

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On Twitter, we received a first version of a mock draft from an avid CJ reader. It was a very interesting one, so we decided to analyze it on the show. Our thanks to Andrew Wayne Torres for sharing his picks through five rounds.

First of all, the players on here are exciting and could bring upgrades to the Bengals. It is a bit defensive-heavy, but two edge rushers and another athletic linebacker are just the areas the team needs to improve on that side of the ball.

Foster is becoming an en vogue pick for the team at No. 9 and could be a star next to Vontaze Burfict. While he isn’t the most exciting of options they could be choosing from at that point in the draft, he seems to be a safe one and would bring legitimacy back to the defense.

Personally speaking, my two favorite picks in this mock are Kareem Hunt and Damontae Kazee. At Toledo last year, Hunt had 1,878 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns last year, proving he is a multi-dimensional talent.

At San Diego State over the past two seasons, Kazee had 15 interceptions—two of which he returned for touchdowns. While the Bengals were tied for fourth-best in the NFL last year at intercepting the football, it’s always a trait that a defense needs.

Scott really liked Ohio’s Tarell Basham and what he could bring as a rotational end in Cincinnati’s system. Michael Johnson is good at setting the edge and batting down passes, but it’s obvious the Bengals need an influx of young players who can regularly get to the passer. Basham could be that guy, as evidenced by his 27 sacks (nine last year) and 38.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career.

Connor didn’t seem to mind Andrew’s selection of the talented safety, Marcus Williams, but also wanted to see an edge rusher in those first two rounds. I would have preferred a wide receiver higher than at the end of the fourth round, but as Connor noted, free agency has yet to play out and we know that that dictates the draft plans to some degree.

All in all, a pretty solid mock for one that contains just one household name in Foster, and we could see some of these names end up with the Bengals in a couple of months.

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Former top-10 pick Justin Gilbert was released by the Steelers earlier this week after they traded for him with the Browns last year. He was on the Bengals’ wish list back in 2014, but they grabbed Darqueze Dennard after Cleveland snagged him.

Gilbert has battled injuries, but former Browns teammates also pointed to a lack of desire to work hard, which has led to Gilbert gaining the “bust” label. He’s had just one interception (which was returned for a touchdown) in his previous three years and was little more than a special teams player for Pittsburgh last year.

We were asked about Gilbert landing in stripes this offseason, and we agreed that it seems like a signature move for the Bengals on a couple of fronts. First of all, the club’s somewhat-successful track record of reclamation projects on former high picks points to a Gilbert signing.

They like to do engage in these projects somewhat frequently—especially in the secondary. If you look back in recent seasons, they’ve had no less than four former first round picks employed at cornerback and safety. It’s also something the team could beat their chests about when talking about outside free agent acquisitions because of the big name, even though he’ll be very affordable.

Regardless of the image the team would project on a signing like Gilbert, it’s all about if he can contribute to the team. The cornerback position is in a major state of unrest this offseason, as Adam Jones’ legal saga keeps getting more and more odd, while Dre Kirkpatrick might test the open free agent market. Gilbert wouldn’t step into either one of their starting roles, but would provide depth behind Dennard and William Jackson III, if something were to happen to Jones and/or Kirkpatrick.

While his fizzling out in Cleveland could make sense because of their struggles as a franchise, it is concerning that Pittsburgh couldn’t get more out of him. If Cincinnati were to sign him, Gilbert would have a long way to go in getting playing time, much less making the team.

Still, it’s one of those low-risk, high-reward moves that could have solid benefits. It’s especially logical because of the questions that need to be answered regarding the group over the next month.