The 2017 NFL Draft is just a few days away, and while most are keeping an eye on what the Cincinnati Bengals will do with their No. 9 pick, a good piece to their formula this year resides in what they do on days two and three. There are a number of deep position groups this year, with a couple of them fitting into the Bengals’ metaphorical wheelhouse.
This particular class is tricky for many NFL teams. Whether it’s the perceived equivalent value in the range of picks roughly from No. 8 to No. 20, or the multitude of talented players with off-field issues, front offices need to do a ton of extra homework this offseason.
With their first pick, the Bengals don’t look to be using it on a player with major character concerns, barring a move back from No. 9 overall. However, with the team clamoring to get back to their postseason ways after a six-win season in 2016, and having 11 picks in their arsenal this weekend, they might be more willing to take chances than they have in recent years.
The Bengals have a history of being more lenient in this regard than other teams, though they’ve largely avoided it over the past handful of years. The 2017 season might pave the way for them to reassess their stance, even though it’s bound to bring back decade-old punchlines.
Here are some of the names we could hear the Bengals call on the later days of the draft, as well as their documented issues. Call it a refresher, if you’d like.
Joe Mixon, Running Back, Oklahoma:
Issues: Mixon was charged with misdemeanor assault on a female student in 2014, causing his suspension for that year. Shortly before the draft, Mixon and victim Amelia Molitor settled out of court, putting the issue behind them. He also had an altercation with a parking attendant on campus, causing another one-game suspension last season.
Projected Round: Late-first round to early third round.
Synopsis: We’ve talked at length about Mixon here at Cincy Jungle, not only because of his talent, but because the Bengals have been heavily-linked to the former Sooners running back. Some believe the team will use their 41st overall pick on him atop the second round, while others believe he could either be a late-first round selection or even tumble into day three because teams reportedly have him off of their boards completely. Still, he is one of, if not the most talented running back in this year’s class.
Tim Williams, Defensive End/Linebacker, Alabama:
Issues: Early last season, Williams was arrested for carrying a pistol without a permit. At the NFL Combine this year, Williams reportedly was a terrible interviewee in sit-downs with teams and also admitted to failing drug tests in the past.
Projected Round: Rounds 2 or 3.
Synopsis: Williams would be the “‘tweener” type of player Marvin Lewis loved as the defensive coordinator of the Ravens. At the onset of his career if selected by the Bengals, he’d be a passing down specialist to spell others on the line, bringing a quicker, smaller option than that of Carlos Dunlap or Michael Johnson. He’ll need to develop additional outside linebacker skills for NFL teams, but with his 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, teams will use a day two pick on him.
For this reason, he might be better-suited for a 3-4 defense. Regardless, Lewis has taken chances on players in his mold like David Pollack and Dontay Moch in the past, so if they go offense at No. 9, a guy like Williams could be in play with one of their two picks on the second night. However, some teams are aghast at his approach to the pre-draft process, and he’s one of those talented guys who could tumble further than some expect.
Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker/Safety, Michigan:
Issue: A diluted urine sample provided at the NFL Combine recently came to light. While those types of tests aren’t a “positive result”, per se, it’s an indication that a player could be attempting to mask their sample for an outright positive result.
Projected Round: Late-first to second.
Synopsis: On one hand, you have to feel for some of these young guys whose results are made public a few days before one of the biggest weekends of their lives. On the other, a player’s decision-making skills are greatly questioned when they are fully aware of an upcoming drug test at the Combine and still appear to have a banned substance in their system.
Very early in the pre-draft process, Peppers was considered a potential top-10 pick. However, after teams began questioning if he can play either linebacker or safety at a high level in the NFL, his stock began to fall. Even though his agency is pulling damage control on this test result by pointing to a pre-Combine illness requiring massive hydration, this could push him into day two.
Reuben Foster, Inside Linebacker, Alabama:
Issues: Foster was sent home from Combine after a spat with a medical assistant and subsequent diluted urine sample.
Projected Round: Mid-first to early second.
Synopsis: With his physicality, Alabama pedigree and on-field attitude, this guy is built for the AFC North. Early mock drafts had the Bengals taking him at No. 9, but with these aforementioned issues and other additional positional needs, those links have cooled off. He also has had shoulder surgery this offseason which reportedly hasn’t healed yet, so he might be another quality prospect who falls into Cincinnati’s lap at No. 41 overall. If not, we could very well see him land with the Bengals’ rivals.
Haason Reddick, Defensive End/Linebacker, Temple:
Issue: Reddick was arrested for a bar fight in March 2015.
Projected Round: Top-20 in the first round.
Synopsis: For some reason, Reddick’s issue has been swept under the rug a bit compared to his other draft classmates’ issues. It was two years ago and he took a deal to enter a diversionary program, so maybe that’s why, but his record isn’t totally clean. He’s been a fast-riser up draft boards lately, given his apparent ability to both get to the passer and play in space. He might be more of a 3-4 defensive fit, but a recent mock draft did peg him to the Bengals at No. 9.
Devante “Speedy” Noil, Wide Receiver, Texas A&M:
Issues: Once a person of interest in an armed robbery case (which he was eventually eliminated from in 2014), Noil has had another issue. He was arrested in the spring of 2016 for driving with a suspended license, and in December of 2016, Noil was also arrested for possessing more than two ounces of marijuana.
Projected Round: Fifth Round-Undrafted
Synopsis: When given the chance to do on-field workouts for scouts, Noil did put up some nice numbers. With a 4.45 40-yard dash and a 43 1/2-inch vertical jump, teams could be willing to take a flyer pick on a guy with so many issues. By the time Noil’s name gets called this weekend, if at all, the Bengals will have probably already selected a wide receiver with an earlier pick, but they could use another late selection from their 11 total picks on him.
Ishmael Zamora, Wide Receiver, Baylor:
Issue: A social media video emerged of Zamora beating his dog, which was a class C misdemeanor.
Projected Round: 4-6
Synopsis: For a guy who stands at 6’3” and 224 pounds, his running of a 4.53 40-yard dash time is impressive. However, like Mixon, Zamora was not invited to the Combine because of his documented issue. On-the-field, he appears to be a legitimate NFL red zone threat, but because of the egregiousness of his crime and it being viewable, teams will undoubtedly shy away from him until day three of the draft. Zamora did recently visit with the Bengals, but his name won’t be called until late in the weekend.
Caleb Brantley, Defensive Tackle, Florida:
Issues: In the last month, Brantley was charged with assault after he allegedly made “crude comments to a female” and subsequently punched her in the face, knocking a tooth out of her mouth, per Ian Rapoport. The victim was reportedly 5’6” and 120 pounds, while Brantley stands at 6’2” and 295 pounds. He was also cited for “dining and dashing” at a bowling alley in 2015.
Projected Round: Rounds 4-5
Synopsis: Some had Brantley pegged as an early-to-middle second round pick, but this recent assault issue should cause him to drop. Because of the allegations, especially so close to the draft, saying he’ll be an early day three pick might be generous, but with this being such a new issue, teams might take an earlier chance on him as more details play out.
Devonte Fields, Outside Linebacker, Louisville:
Issues: Fields has an eye-opening 2014 incident where he allegedly threatened and assaulted his ex-girlfriend and pointed a gun at her, saying, “I should blast you”. The incident led to his dismissal from TCU’s football program, with the Cardinals taking a chance on him after a stint in community college. This was after he violated team rules in 2013, causing him to be suspended for two games with the Horned Frogs.
Projected Round: 6-7
Synopsis: On the field, Fields has an innate knack to getting to the quarterback, racking up 26.5 sacks in four seasons at TCU and Louisville, along with 51.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career. Depending on the scheme and how he’s used, a team could get a player with a huge ceiling, but there is a total lack of dependability of his being able to consistently be on the field because of his repeated issues. The Bengals had a private workout with Fields this draft season.
Chad Kelly, Quarterback, Mississippi:
Issues: In 2014, Kelly was arrested for being heavily involved in a fight at a nightclub, as well as threatening to use a gun at the venue. He was also previously dismissed from the Clemson football team after a heated confrontation with head coach, Dabo Swinney.
Projected Round: 6-7
Synopsis: Kelly is a wild card in this draft, as he has athleticism to run and throw, as well as coming from a great pedigree, being the nephew of Bills Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly. In 2015, Kelly had an outstanding statistical year, playing 13 games and throwing for 4,042 yards, 31 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions, along with 509 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
He only played in nine games last season, throwing for 2,758 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He had 332 yards and five more touchdowns on the ground in 2016, but his documented words of "I'm going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place," should definitely keep him as a day three pick.
Cam Robinson, Offensive Tackle, Alabama:
Issue: He was arrested for possession of a stolen firearm in 2016 in a rental car, as well as there being a half a gram of marijuana also found in the vehicle. The prosecution decided not to pursue charges against Robinson, as possession of both was tough to definitively prove.
Projected Round: 1
Synopsis: Do Crimson Tide players think they’re actors in the movie Varsity Blues, or what? While this uber-talented and incredibly-successful team is widely-respected for their program on the field, their best players seem to not understand that they are still susceptible to the laws of the land. Robinson has largely avoided potential legal repercussions, but other on-field questions remain. It’s unlikely the Bengals go for an offensive lineman high in the draft, but if they move back, it’s Robinson might be a possibility.
Jourdan Lewis, Cornerback, Michigan:
Issue: Lewis faces allegations that, shortly before the Combine, he dragged his ex-girlfriend across the floor and put his hands around her neck. He has since pleaded not guilty.
Projected Round: 3-4
Synopsis: Though the Bengals won’t be looking at a cornerback high in the draft—they’ve invested three first round picks in the position from 2012-2016—they might be looking for insurance as the ongoing Adam Jones saga plays out. Lewis is above-average against the run for his size (5’10”, 185 pounds), and excels at tight man coverage, which Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther and covet out of their corners. Still, possibly replacing another current cornerback with a history of issues with another might not make sense.
Which of these players should the Bengals think about taking a chance on, given their skill set and position?