The Bengals are a team that truly believes in drafting the player whom they feel is the best available, regardless of their position. It can seem like a frustrating strategy at times to fans who see the need for improvement at certain positions, while other positions appear set. However, that strategy has netted the Bengals impact performers such as Tyler Eifert and Nick Vigil in recent years. The hope is that William Jackson III will also prove to fall into that category, though, the jury is still out on him, along with Andrew Billings, and Paul Dawson.
Still, the BPA strategy has paid dividends over the years. When it comes to the draft, the Bengals are simply looking for players who can make a legendary difference, even if that player happens to play a position that’s stacked on the Bengals’ roster.
“Your current team is not going to matter if you can bring in Troy Polamalu, in his prime, and have Troy Polamalu's career,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “If you can get that, and you feel that's an upgrade from where you are, you're going to do it. At any position. If there is a guy you feel is a difference maker, you're going to do it at any position.”
The Bengals’ safety position is one that seems pretty set after the team signed George Iloka and Shawn Williams to long-term extensions in 2016. In theory, Tobin’s suggestion that the Bengals could find a Polamalu-like player would be fantastic. But, at the safety position, both of the Bengals’ starters are performing well and are under contract through 2020. But, if the best player available in Round 1 is a safety, that is the direction we can expect the Bengals to go.
“There are a couple of safeties high in this draft that can do that,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther told Hobson.
One of the few (maybe only) positives about the Bengals’ abysmal 6-9-1 record from 2016 is their No. 9 overall draft positioning. That means the best player available has a great chance to be an all-star in their professional career. Things don’t always work out that way, as the Bengals discovered with Keith Rivers their only No. 9 overall selection in team history. But, their chances are much greater at that lofty draft positioning than when picking in the second half of the first round.
“At the top end of the draft there are a lot of very good defensive players,” Tobin said. “It’s not like one, two, three and then it falls off the shelf.”
For example, the last time the Bengals held such a lofty draft positioning, they netted two franchise players in the first two rounds in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Granted, the Bengals had the No. 4 overall pick that year rather than No. 9, but the club still will get to choose from a pool of players who 23 other teams will not have the opportunity to select. Like Vigil, whose selection in the third round of the 2016 draft was somewhat surprising, what ultimately matters is how the Bengals feel about the players they are selecting.
“You can’t get caught up in the No. 9 pick,” Guenther said. “Even if he’s ranked in the middle of the round, he’s still a first-round player. You’re not picking a lesser player.”
Then again, it would be silly to suggest that the Bengals don’t take a player’s position into account. Heading into the 2017 season, defensive end is a noticeable team need. Therefore, if the best player available (or maybe even second or third best player available) happens to be a defensive end, the Bengals know exactly what they will be looking for.
“You’re just looking for guys that have the traits you’re looking for,” Guenther said. “You’re looking for guys with a long reach, but they also have to have the quickness and burst, too. Not many 6-5, 6-6 defensive ends that can play at a high level. They wouldn’t get to us at nine.”
If that is what the Bengals are looking for in a defensive end, Michigan’s Taco Charlton fits the description almost perfectly. It is hard to say exactly how the Bengals feel about him, in particular, and if they deem him worthy of the No. 9 overall pick. However, you can bet if the Bengals are really high on him, the fact that he is expected to be a late-first round pick won’t matter to them. In that situation, you would have to expect the Bengals to pick him up at No. 9 overall and find a way to justify the ‘reach’ later.