One of the only good things about the Bengals experiencing disappointing results in 2016 is the effect on their draft options in 2017. Having lost so many key free agents in the 2015 offseason and going on to record a record of 6-9-1, the Bengals have the luxury of the No. 9 overall pick and 11 total selections in 2017. As a result, there are so many ways the Bengals could attack this draft, and so many different options with every pick. Based on the Bengals’ 2016 results and their needs going forward, my vote would be for the following selections:
Round 1; Pick 9: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
The Bengals aren’t exactly hurting for wide receiver talent with A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd shoring up the top three spots. But, at 30-years-old, LaFell isn’t going to be around much longer. The Bengals have an opportunity to pick up a true difference maker in Corey Davis. If he develops into the receiver he is expected to be in the NFL, the combination of him and Green could be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Round 2; Pick 41: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
The Bengals need another weapon at running back. Granted, the team seems to be sticking with the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill for now, as evidenced by their lack of fight for former Bengals breakout star Rex Burkhead. But, Bernard has had some injury problems recently (currently recovering from a torn ACL) and Hill has had production problems.
Hill is a free agent after 2017. So, the athletic, agile Kamara could be taken as insurance for now and could potentially turn into Hill’s replacement if his production does not improve.
Round 3; Pick 73: Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio
The Bengals’ need for some help at defensive end is no secret. With Michael Johnson playing consistently average and backup Margus Hunt now in Indianapolis, it seems like the perfect time for the Bengals to pick up a talented prospect at this position. At 6’4” and 269 pounds, Tarell Basham already looks the part and has the technique and tenacity to move blockers out of the way with ease. Some areas of his game still need work, which is why the Bengals can take him as late as the third round. In the right system, he could turn into one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Round 4; Pick 116: Nico Siragusa, OG, San Diego State
Following the departure of Kevin Zeitler to the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals clearly need some help at offensive guard. Granted, the recently returned Andre Smith is expected to hold down the starting right guard position with the young, talented, Christian Westerman waiting and developing in the wings. But, the Bengals need extra help there, including with run blocking, which is Siragusa’s forte. Furthermore, he has been noted as a very positive locker room presence, which the Bengals could use after the departure of Andrew Whitworth.
Round 4; Pick 138: Ethan Pocic, C, LSU
The Bengals currently employ Russell Bodine and T.J. Johnson at the center position. The Bengals have kept Johnson around for insurance purposes since 2013, while Bodine was drafted in 2014. However, Bodine is in a contract year and has struggled at the starting center spot. Pocic is a flexible, tall center with a refined technique and clear leadership qualities. Even if the Bengals are not planning to replace Bodine in 2018, Pocic could be moved to any position on the offensive line to maximize his production.
Round 5; Pick 153: Corn Elder, CB, Miami (Fla.)
The Bengals have a fairly crowded cornerback position at the moment. Dre Kirkpatrick was recently re-signed, Adam Jones is an established veteran starter, Josh Shaw has proven himself a reliable slot corner, Darqueze Dennard is in a contract year, William Jackson III is entering his second year, and KeiVarae Russell looks like a promising young backup. However, considering Jones’ age and Dennard’s lack of production, there could easily be a spot for a physical, quick cornerback like Elder to win. If not, he could be a solid practice squad addition until a spot opens up.
Round 5; Pick 176: Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
Receiving comparisons to former fifth-round receiver prodigy, Marvin Jones, Reynolds is a vertical threat with an elite ball tracking ability and a knack for fighting defenders off to make tough catches. At 194 pounds he could stand to bulk up if he wants to make an impact at the professional level. Then again, the Bengals made it work with Jones, so why not double down at receiver and give Reynolds a chance to compete for James Wright’s vacant spot?
Round 6; Pick 193: Jeremiah Ledbetter, DL, Arkansas
It has been said the Bengals should double down at multiple positions in this draft, given the sheer number of picks available. In the case of Ledbetter, you could claim the Bengals are doubling down at defensive end, but the Bengals could also cover two positional needs with the same player. Following the departure of Domata Peko, the Bengals have a clear need at defensive tackle, which is where Ledbetter has experience. But, he also has edge potential, given his 6’3” 280 pound frame. He will need to be further developed at the NFL level, but his first training camp will allow the Bengals to decide how to use and mold him for the long-run.
Round 6; Pick 217: Jake Elliott, K, Memphis
The Bengals have Randy Bullock at the kicker position, but there will be a competition for the job in 2017 and more options are expected to be brought in other than Bullock and former soccer player Jonathan Brown. Zane Gonzalez is considered the top prospect in this year’s draft, and he very likely will be off the board at this point. Elliott provides an outstanding level of both range and accuracy on his field goals and would be a nice add in Round 6. Gonzalez is clearly the better prospect on kickoffs, but the NFL has been slowly making touchbacks more and more common, making that particular area of the scouting report less and less relevant.
Round 7; Pick 227: Javancy Jones, LB, Jackson State
Although he is generally thought of as an upright edge rusher, Jones possesses a coverage ability and upfield awareness that most pure edge rushers never bother to learn. He is a solid pass rusher, although his size could betray him in that role at the NFL level. Still, in the open field, he knows what he is doing. He is rarely taken off track or forced to miss tackles. He has a certain hunger for success that could allow him to surprise a lot of people at the NFL level, but he certainly hasn’t developed his talent enough for the Bengals to consider him before the seventh round.
Round 7; Pick 251: Fish Smithson, S, Kansas
The Bengals are in an enviable position at safety, having both of their starters, George Iloka and Shawn Williams, under contract through 2020 with two promising backups, Clayton Fejedelem and Derron Smith, under contract through 2019 and 2018, respectively. The Bengals still want to have some leverage at the position and Smithson, like Smith, is considered undersized and slow for the position. But, he has the instincts and awareness to convince NFL teams he might be worth the development project. With the Bengals’ final pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to not take a risk on him.