Despite initially getting great reviews, that 2016 haul quickly turned into a major disappointment, though that was largely due to guys getting hurt. First-round cornerback William Jackson III and fourth-round defensive tackle Andrew Billings were expected to have major roles as rookies, but both were lost to season-ending injuries in the preseason.
And while guys like Nick Vigil, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core showed promise, their limited roles weren’t enough to keep Cincinnati from floundering to a 6-9-1 record. That’s why ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. downgraded the Bengals in his re-grade of all 32 team’s 2016 draft grades.
Post-draft grade: A-
New grade: B-
I loved this draft at the time, but the Bengals had some bad luck with injuries, which drags it down a little now. Since people still haven't seen William Jackson III since he lost the season because of a pec injury, here's what I wrote then for a little context: "In the secondary, Adam Jones is 32 and Dre Kirkpatrick could be an unrestricted free agent next season, so cornerback was a quiet need. The addition of William Jackson III -- a player with exceptional ball skills -- not only made sense, it deprived the rival Steelers from the chance to take him one slot later." Now, Kirkpatrick is back, but any Bengals fan knows they still need Jackson to become a useful starter.
Elsewhere, Tyler Boyd at least tried to fill the hole left by the free-agent departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, catching 54 passes, but beyond that there isn't much here. Andrew Billings missed the year with a knee injury, and Nick Vigil was just depth. Cody Core had some flashes and could play a bigger role if he develops, as a sneaky size-speed combo. Let's see what Jackson does in 2017.
Grading a draft, even after one season, often proves to be useless in the grand scheme of things. For all we know, this draft will turn into an amazing class that deserves an A after we see how everyone develops during the next 3-4 years. There’s also the potential this draft fails to live up to the hype and ends up being worthy of of a lower grade.
When it comes to the Bengals and their history of bringing up young players slowly, we usually don’t get a real feel for how their draft classes will play out until at least three seasons have passed.
There are exceptions, like the 2011 class with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, where it was quickly clear the Bengals got a great haul. There’s also classes like 2008 with Andre Smith and Michael Johnson that looked like disasters after one year, but ended up becoming a good class in the long run.
That’s why we can’t use the 2016 season as judgement for how this class will play out long term. All said, what grade would you give the Bengals’ 2016 draft class at this moment?