The focus for a lot of the draft cycle has been what the Bengals will do with the ninth pick of the NFL Draft. However, the Bengals need to find some instant-impact players on the second and third day as well if they want to return to the playoffs.
Last week, I talked about five offensive players on Days 2-3 who could make an impact. Now, here are five players the Bengals could add on the second and third days to improve their defense next season.
Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle, Alabama
The Bengals will look to add some depth to their interior defensive line at some point in this draft. Domata Peko and the Bengals parted ways this offseason. Cincinnati has several young players like Andrew Billings, Marcus Hardison, and DeShawn Williams, but they all remain unknowns. You also can never have enough competition on the defensive line after the Bengals produced 33 sacks, 17 of which coming from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
Here is where a player like Tomlinson comes in. Tomlinson has had a rocky career due to some injuries early on. He didn't start until his final season, but he played very well. It was especially impressive because Nick Saban used him as a defensive end and tackle. Tomlinson has a big body, and he has a great ability to swat passes. He also happens to be an amazing person, driven by his late mother's words to him. He also was a three-time heavyweight wrestling champion in high school.
Right now, Tomlinson is projected as a third or fourth-round pick. Many knock him for being a one-year producer and being surrounded by a very talented front, but that wouldn't be a problem for him if he joined the Bengals' front that includes Atkins and Dunlap. He also fails to create a lot of pressure with his bull rush. Still, if the Bengals need to add a defensive lineman in the mid rounds, Tomlinson could provide an instant impact as a rotational player, and he has the possibility of developing into more.
Carl Lawson, pass rusher, Auburn
As mentioned in the Tomlinson analysis, the Bengals need to bring in some help on their defensive line. They especially need a pass rusher opposite Dunlap. Michael Johnson only had 3.5 sacks last season. Lawson provides some athleticism on the edge that Johnson simply doesn't have at this stage of his career.
Lawson racked up nine sacks his last season at Auburn. He knows how to use his long arms to keep distance between him and offensive tackles. He is also great at using his hands to shed offensive lineman. Lawson is incredible at turning the corner to get to the quarterback. Lawson is currently projected to go in the third round right now, and he could provide a good rotational pass rusher for the Bengals who need to get younger at the position.
The knocks on Lawson include his injury history that has seen him miss significant time over his time at Auburn. He also has a habit of over-running plays at times. He isn't a great run stopper either, and needs to get more creative with his pass-rushing moves. It is very likely the Bengals will double dip in the pass rushers to help improve the position, and Lawson could come in as a backup who plays during passing situations.
Joe Mathis, pass rusher, Washington
Mathis is slated as a second-day pick. He could be a huge steal for the Bengals if they get him in that range. Mathis proved to be a very disruptive player his final year in Washington. He set the edge on running plays, and he excelled at disrupting the passer. It didn't always show up on the stat sheet though, which hurts his stock a little bit.
A few analysts don't think he projects as a defensive end even though he has experience in that area. His small sample size also hurts him considering his earlier years were disappointing, but he claims his turnaround in his final season was due to the birth of his son. His lack of sack numbers has given the impression his pass-rush skills need work.
Still, if he continues to be mature about his career, he could develop into a very good pass rusher in the NFL.
Duke Riley, linebacker, LSU
Riley is an undersized option for the Bengals on the third day of the draft. Honestly, I think it is doubtful the Bengals go linebacker on the first two days even though they probably should look to bring some more speed to the position. The signing of Kevin Minter killed off a lot of those plans as the Bengals will likely bank on him providing the improvement they desperately need at the position.
Riley is an intriguing prospect because he did what was good for the team. He knew he probably wouldn't get a chance to be a full-time starter until his senior year, but he never complained. When he got his shot, he managed to lead LSU in tackles. He also consistently improved the entire season which bodes well for him at the next level. He showed improved instincts and tackling ability as the year went on.
It is hard for a player like Riley to have a high draft stock after his career. He already is behind the eight ball due to his lack of size, but his one year of production doesn't help anything. Analysts are concerned about his short area quickness and ability to cover running backs out of the backfield.
If the Bengals wait until the fourth day to address their linebacker position, Riley may end up being an upside player who can have an impact on special teams until he has time to adjust to the NFL.
Jayon Brown, linebacker, UCLA
Brown is a late third-round prospect who could be a niche player the Bengals need. Like Riley, he is also undersized, but a majority of players on the third day have a huge knock against them. Brown came in when Myles Jack got hurt and shined. He ended up leading the team in tackles that season and the next. He was very active in the passing game as well. He also played special teams all four seasons he played, so he can step in and contribute there.
Brown simply won't be an every-down back in the NFL. He gets pushed around on running plays, and has to work way harder to make it to the running back. Still, he fits the mold of having that coverage linebacker who is more like a safety in the box that is becoming more of a necessity in the NFL. He is also a very sure tackler, but sometimes the ball carrier will still be able to carry him an extra few yards.
It is hard to say if Brown will every be able to fill the niche of nickel linebacker, but he can come in and contribute on special teams. Maybe if the Bengals are content with him doing that for a season, Brown can grow into that mold. For a late pick, you couldn't ask much more.