Round 1: Reuben Foster, linebacker, Alabama
Reuben Foster is a no-brainer for the Bengals with the ninth overall pick. He possesses the type of speed necessary to cover receivers across the middle, and the power and instincts to stuff a running back at the line of scrimmage. He’s a once in a generation type of player at the linebacker position. Not only should Foster be the best player available at pick No. 9, but he would also fill a need for the Bengals.
Nick Vigil showed some promise toward the end of the 2016 season, but he’s still too much of an unknown at this point. Rey Maualuga isn’t useful in today’s NFL. Vinny Rey is a solid player who provides good depth and leadership, but is better suited as a special teams player. The Bengals need an athletic linebacker to pair with Vontaze Burfict and Foster would provide that athleticism and then some. The thought of him and Burfict playing linebacker on the same field should have all Bengals fans hoping Foster’s name is called when the Bengals are making their first round pick. There are some character and injury concerns, but I think Foster’s talent will trump those issues.
Round 2: Takkarist McKinley, defensive end, UCLA
McKinley is a perfect pick here. He’s a pass rush specialist who also shows the ability crash down and stop the run. He doesn’t possess the size (6’2, 260 pounds) that the Bengals typically look for in the defensive end position, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said that he would be willing to look past size for the right player.
“If that guy is 5’11 and he can get there, I don’t care,” Guenther said of the position.
There’s no denying that the Bengals need a pass rusher opposite of Carlos Dunlap. Michael Johnson just isn’t the player he once was, and Will Clarke hasn’t reached the potential he was expected to have when coming out of college. McKinley would provide the Bengals with the speed pass rusher that they desperately need. Some have a first-round grade on McKinley, but because of some concerns about his shoulder, it’s possible he slips to the Bengals with the 41st pick.
Round 3: Josh Reynolds,wide receiver, Texas A&M
The more I watch Reynolds, the more I fall in love with his game. On the surface, he doesn’t appear to possess top notch speed, but somehow has a knack for creating separation from defensive backs. Reynolds has a lanky frame and runs with long strides, making him appear slower than he is. Also, he can make tough catches in traffic because of his strong hands. I can’t help but compare Reynolds to Marvin Jones when I watch him play.
When Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency prior to the 2016 season, it supplied the Bengals with an incomplete receiving core (pun intended). Tyler Boyd filled in nicely as a move the chains/possession type receiver, but Brandon LaFell couldn’t provide the deep threat that Jones brought to the offense. Reynolds is the perfect player to take on the role that Jones once played.
Round 4: Ethan Pocic,center, LSU
Pocic was one of the best offensive lineman in the SEC, earning first team all-conference honors. He’s an intelligent player who shows great technique and athletic ability. Pocic also has great agility and quick feet. More importantly, he has the versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line, making him an ideal pick for the Bengals.
The Bengals offensive line performance in 2016 was underwhelming to say the least. One reason for the underwhelming play was the continued poor showing from Russell Bodine at the center position. Bodine has been a liability for the Bengals since he entered the league, and it’s time to seek out a replacement. On top of that, starting right guard, Kevin Zeitler has moved on in free agency. Because of Pocic’s ability to play both the center and guard position, this pick makes a lot of sense for the Bengals.
Round 4: Eddie Jackson,safety, Alabama
Eddie Jackson is still new to the safety position. He moved from corner to safety for the 2015 season at Alabama, and has improved significantly ever since. He’s undersized so he needs to add weight to be an effective tackler in the NFL, but he possesses strong coverage skills. Jackson plays a great center field much like former Bengal, Reggie Nelson.
The safety position isn’t a glaring need for the Bengals. Safety play across the league is down in general, proving that it’s not easy to find an elite safety. George Iloka and Shawn Williams drew some criticism throughout the 2016 season, but they played better than people gave them credit for. Also, they showed improvements as the season went along. Keep in mind, Williams wasn’t a starter until last season so it took time for them to develop the chemistry that Iloka and Nelson had. Nonetheless, competition is always welcome and Jackson is one of those sneaky players who could come in and compete for playing time. (Note: this is the Bengals’ first compensatory pick.)
Round 5: Joe Williams, running back, Utah
Joe Williams is a great athlete who shows quick burst and breakaway speed. He’s also very difficult to tackle, refusing to go down on first contact. He has all the physical capabilities to be a starting running back in the NFL, but has character concerns that throw up some red flags. He was kicked out of UConn for theft, and then he briefly retired from football while at Utah. If the Bengals are willing to look past his off-the-field concerns, Williams could be nice pickup at a position the Bengals need to address.
Jeremy Hill bursted onto the scene during his rookie campaign, but he’s had two disappointing seasons since then. It’s time to accept the reality that maybe his rookie season was an anomaly, and the past two seasons are the norm. On top of that, Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL tear so there’s some uncertainty there as well. The Bengals need to address the running back position, and Williams is a guy who could step in and produce right away if he handles himself properly off the field. The Bengals should meet with Williams and do their due diligence before taking a chance on him.
Round 5: Shelton Gibson, wide receiver, West Virginia
There’s one word every draft expert has used to describe Shelton Gibson, and that word is, FAST. He has elite speed that scares defenses into cheating back, which in turn provides a cushion for other receivers on some intermediate routes. Gibson is considered one of the fastest guys in this draft class. The Bengals need a guy with top end speed to complement the other receivers on the roster.
One of the issues with the offense in 2016, was the lack of a deep threat among the receiving core. Tyler Boyd and LaFell both served as solid possession receivers, but neither one posed much of a threat in the deep passing game. A lack of a deep threat results in safeties cheating up, making it harder for guys like Boyd, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert to find open space in the intermediate routes. Gibson would be a perfect addition to the offense if the Bengals wish to add some speed to the group. (Note: this is the Bengals’ second compensatory pick.)
Round 6: Des Lawrence, cornerback, North Carolina
Des Lawrence is a big, physical corner who shows versatility scheme wise. He can excel in press-man as well as zone-coverage. He was often put on an island at North Carolina instead of being provided safety help. He held his own on the island, allowing a quarterback rating of just 60.3 during the 2016 season. Lawrence is a guy who possesses the characteristics that the Bengals typically look for in a cornerback prospect. The Bengals are always looking to add talented cornerbacks, even when the team seems set at the position.
That said, Darqueze Dennard hasn’t been able to stay on the field long enough to showcase his abilities. The jury is still out on last year’s first round pick, William Jackson III because of an injury that ended his season before it began. On top of all of that, Adam Jones ran into more legal troubles, making his future with the franchise up in the air as well. Dre Kirkpatrick is the only certainty to start in 2017. The Bengals would be wise to look at the cornerback position at some point in this draft, and Lawrence is a guy who fits what the team likes to do defensively.
Round 6: Jon Toth, center, Kentucky
Jon Toth isn’t a guy who is going to wow you with his physical characteristics, but he’s cerebral player who plays with nearly perfect technique. Toth was a four-year starter at Kentucky and was the leader for an offensive line that paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers in the 2016 season. He’s better suited for a run-heavy offense, but he’s a capable pass blocker as well. He’s going to be a late round pick because of his physical attributes, but the Bengals would be getting a good player here.
The Bengals have some uncertainty across the offensive line due to their lost free agents and poor performance. Just like fourth round pick Ethan Pocic, Toth can play multiple positions across the line. Versatility is an underrated attribute. If the Bengals get Toth in the sixth round, they would be addressing both the guard and center position with one pick. (Note: this is the Bengals’ third compensatory pick.)
Round 7: Chad Kelly, quarterback, Ole Miss
Chad Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Fame Quarterback, Jim Kelly, has a track record of being a strong-armed quarterback who can make any throw you need him to make. Unfortunately, he also has a track record of getting in trouble off-the-field. He wasn’t invited to the combine because of his off the field issues. Per ESPN, Kelly was charged with resisting arrest, menacing and several other counts following an altercation outside a Buffalo nightclub in December 2014.
Bottom line, Kelly has the talent to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but it’s yet to be determined if he has the character to go along with that talent. Nonetheless, The Bengals may need a backup quarterback soon and Kelly could be a guy worth taking a chance on this late in the draft.
As it stands right now, AJ McCarron is the backup quarterback for the Bengals. He’s arguably the best backup quarterback in the league. It’s because of his abilities that he’s become a hot commodity in the trade market. Director of player personnel Duke Tobin, has stated that there’s going to be high asking price to get a deal done for McCarron, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. If a deal gets done, the Bengals are going to need another quarterback. Chad Kelly would be good value pick in the seventh round.
Round 7: Josh Augusta,defensive tackle, Missouri
Josh Augusta has proven to be a disruptive defensive lineman, aggressive at the point of attack. On top of that, many believe that he hasn’t shown his full potential yet. Augusta is an aggressive and high upside player who would be a steal in the seventh round. He grades out be more of a fourth or fifth round selection, but he’s shown an inability to control his weight that could result in him dropping to the seventh. He’d be a nice addition that could provide some depth for the Bengals.
The Bengals don’t desperately need a defensive tackle, but they could afford to address the position. Geno Atkins is a top 3 defensive tackle in the league, but the team just lost Domata Peko in free agency. Andrew Billings is ultimately the guy who steps in and replaces Peko. And guys like Deshawn Williams and Brandon Thompson are also worthy backups that the Bengals have on their roster. Still, the Bengals could afford to add a defensive tackle just to be safe, and Augusta would be a nice pick up here in the seventh round.