We’re oh-so-close to the NFL Draft and Cincinnati Bengals fans are getting excited about the possibilities and improvements coming to the club. Most of us think we have an idea as to the positions the team is looking at in the first two rounds, but they have surprised us from time to time.
However, as it has proven to be the case in the mini-dynasty the Bengals have created over the past seven years, the roster’s strength has been built on picks they have made on days two and even three. Players like George Iloka, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Shawn Williams and Clint Boling have all been added in those middle and late rounds, so that could be where the Bengals get the glut of the talent in their 11 picks this year.
On this regular feature at Cincy Jungle, we like to hear from our readers and what is on their minds this time of year. As we all know, the draft is what the team tends to heavily rely on, and this is a critical year in the reforming of the club—both because of their many picks and their coming off of a six-win season.
You can send us your questions via Twitter @CincyJungle, @BengalsOBI, @CJAnthonyCUI, but we also field a number of questions on our live broadcast of The Orange and Black Insider podcast. Thanks for this week’s submissions!
This is one of the major questions on the roster right now. After Mike Nugent struggled once again throughout much of 2016, the team brought in Randy Bullock for the final three games, with mixed results. While he hit all six of his extra points and whiffed on just one of his six field goal tries, the lone miss caused the Bengals to lose a Christmas Eve game against Bullock’s former employers—the Texans.
Nevertheless, the Bengals re-signed both he and Jonathan Brown this offseason, attempting to bring some semblance of competition. Moreover, Duke Tobin reiterated the need for competition at the spot when asked about it at the NFL Combine, so adding another high-profile name isn’t totally out of the cards.
When looking at the draft and the team potentially using a pick, which is somewhat-rare for any team, a couple of names stand out. Jake Elliott of Memphis and Conrad Ukropina from Stanford have draftable grades, but Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez is the top kicker this year.
In a recent mock draft by Chad Reuter of NFL.com (which, for the most part would be an ugly scenario for the Bengals), he had Cincinnati taking Gonzalez with their first pick in the fourth round (No. 116 overall). By most standards, it’s reasonable value, especially with the team experiencing so many issues at the position last year. Cincinnati has interest in Gonzalez, as evidenced by their recent visit with him after his Pro Day about a month ago.
On one hand, it makes total sense. 2016 issues aside, who they currently have on the roster doesn’t necessarily instill a ton of confidence. Bullock has a career 81.4% field goal rate and has been with five different teams in as many years in the league. Brown is an unknown and, knowing the Bengals’ penchant for relying on veterans, it seems like it would be Bullock’s job to lose in 2017.
With 11 picks at their disposal in a couple of weeks, the team can afford to use a day three pick on a position that isn’t highly valued in the draft. This becomes especially apparent when you look at the tie against Washington and the losses against Buffalo and Baltimore late in the season, where the Bengals were theoretically still fighting for the postseason and Nugent missed one field goal and four extra points combined in those games. Those three games were decided by a cumulative nine points and could have made the difference between a 6-9-1 season and a competitive 9-7.
On the other hand, linebacker, wide receiver, defensive end, offensive line and running back all need replenishing this year. Maybe they trust Bullock more than we know and think he’s the answer for 2017. In 2009, they felt they had a huge need at punter and took the best one in the draft in the fifth round with Kevin Huber.
While kicker may be on their radar in the later rounds, conventional wisdom has the Bengals potentially opting for the best player available that fall to them on days two and three, which is what they’ve done in recent years. Unfortunately, right now, it’s kind of wait-and-see.
@CincyJungle Who is the late round pick that will surprise us? Kelly Qb? Player that Bengals have shown particular interest in?— Chris Sutter (@cwsutter) April 15, 2017
Ole Miss quarterback, Chad Kelly, is definitely someone they could take a late-round flyer on, especially if AJ McCarron ends up being on the trade table. Kelly remains an intriguing day three prospect, but a wrist injury he suffered during his Pro Day workout leaves more questions on him than there already were; and there are many questions regarding his past and behavior issues.
When it comes to the Bengals and draft surprises, it’s kind of all about perspective. Seeing as how they currently have two capable quarterbacks on the roster and another they like in Jeff Driskel, that position could be a little bit of a shocker—particularly if they don’t deal McCarron.
What also might surprise is if the Bengals take a receiver or running back in the early rounds and then do it again late. At wideout, they have A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, while also seeming to like Cody Core, Alex Erickson and Jake Kumerow. If the team gets one in the first couple of rounds and then double-dips later, one might be left scratching their head. The same could be said with running back.
Where some might be surprised, in terms of a pick and when the team uses it, might be at tight end. Some, like myself, feel that there’s a need for another able pass-catcher at the position because of Tyler Eifert’s contract situation and his knack for getting injured. Some may feel that it’s a luxury pick the team might be better-served using elsewhere, depending on their opinion of Eifert’s long-term outlook and the confidence in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft.
If you’re asking me right now what might surprise me, here are a few scenarios: an offensive lineman at No. 9 (because the value isn’t there), Alabama’s O.J. Howard at the same spot, a quarterback before round five, or double-dips at receiver and running back.
@CincyJungle Not so much of a question but a direction they should go. They should either load up on straight offense with first 2 picks or straight def.— Andy (@AndySwole) April 14, 2017
@CincyJungle If they go WR/RB with 1 and 2, offense will be elite again, or go DE/LB the defense could be in the top 5 next year.— Andy (@AndySwole) April 14, 2017
I won’t go into great detail as to why I think this way, as I have another article coming on it as to why, but I’m in the minority and think the Bengals need to go a little bit more on offense this draft and with high picks. There are a couple reasons as to why I think this should be the case.
In 2015, the Bengals were absolutely trouncing teams, especially early on, and had 12 games where they scored 24 or more points. In 2016, they accomplished the feat just four times, pointing to the turnover in personnel and the coaching ranks. Throw in the fact that seven of the 10 non-wins (losses and the tie) were decided by just one possession, and I look at the offense.
In the final eight games when the Bengals needed wins to keep their slim playoff hopes alive the scored 20 or fewer points five times. Sure, injures to key players on that side of the ball hurt, but that’s why you build depth, right? Next man up.
That’s not to say that defense should be ignored, though. Obviously the Bengals need middle defenders who can regularly keep up with tight ends and getting to the passer is always at a premium. I just think they need offensive skill position threats to not only scare opposing defenses when the unit is fully healthy, but also remedy a potential loss of a star player already on the roster.
Regardless, I don’t agree that if the Bengals eschew offense early that they’ll be looking at a top-five pick in 2018. There is too much talent on this roster and Marvin Lewis of getting late-season wins, even when the team is out of the race. It may lead to another mediocre year if they don’t fix the offense, but not a dismal one.