None are more important than in the pass-rushing department. After this was a strength of the Bengals in 2015, the pass rush regressed mightily last season. The team was only able to muster up 33 sacks through 16 games after yielding 46 sacks across 17 games (including playoffs) in 2015.
The drop in sacks and lack of pass rush came as a surprise after Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins combined for 24.5 sacks in 2015. The duo combined for a respectable 17 sacks in 2016 while playing at a high level, but they got very little help from the rest of the front seven.
Michael Johnson has just 12.5 sacks during his last three seasons, a far cry from his 11.5-sack campaign in 2012. The 30-year-old no longer looks like a suitable starter, even if he’s playing second fiddle to Dunlap.
But really, the Bengals were hurt most by having no help off the bench. Margus Hunt and Will Clarke were the two bench guys for most of the year, but they could only combine for four sacks, all of which came from Clarke. Wallace Gilberry did provide a late-season spark with 2.5 sacks, but at age 32, he doesn’t have much left in the tank. He was re-signed this offseason, but, the Bengals would be better off finding an upgrade for him in addition to Hunt who is now on the Colts.
The good news is this is a great draft for pass-rushers, which is the biggest need heading into Day 2 of the draft. Guys like Ohio’s Tarell Basham, Alabama’s Tim Williams, and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis are all guys who could be in the running for Cincinnati’s 41st overall pick.
One of the more promising guys who could be there in Round 3 is Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, who is probably going to be the best pass-rusher available there. Other guys who could get Round 3 consideration include Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker, Villanova’s Tanoh Kpassagnon and Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson.
Assuming the Bengals come out of Day 2 with a pass-rusher, most of their remaining needs won’t be nearly as pressing, and they’ll have flexibility about what to address in the rest of the draft.
Running back is probably the next biggest need after pass-rusher. The Bengals finally appear ready to upgrade from incumbent Jeremy Hill and, at the very least, should relegate him to more of a backup role going forward. And with Giovani Bernard recovering from a torn ACL, which is hard for any running back to come back from and play as well as they did pre-injury, it may be smart for the Bengals to snag a back on Friday.
Most experts think the Bengals will go running back in Round 2, and for good reason. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixson were all guys who could have been drafted in Round 1, but it looks like at least one of them will be on the board for Cincinnati to take at 41.
Texas’ D'Onta Foreman, South Florida’s Marlon Mack, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine are all great talents who could be available early in the third round if Cincinnati wants to get a running back.
You could argue that the Bengals’ biggest remaining need is at center. We all know about the struggles of Russell Bodine, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal. If the Bengals don't want to extend him, they must draft a center this year, and preferably early.
In Rounds 2-3, West Virginia’s Tyler Orlosky, Ohio State’s Pat Elflein and LSU’s Ethan Pocic are all great candidates to be upgrades over Bodine. The Bengals should be able to get one of them in Round 3, but don’t be surprised if they reach for one in Round 2.
The only other glaring need is at offensive tackle, which has been one of the Bengals’ biggest strengths since 2011. Now, they could have one of the worst tackle situations after Andrew Whitworth left to sign a big-money deal with the Rams.
Whitworth served as the No. 1 protector for Andy Dalton since the quarterback was drafted in 2011, and he was among the two or three best left tackles in football since then. Losing him not only affects this offensive line, but it also hurts Dalton, and thus makes the entire offense a lesser version of what it’s been in previous seasons.
That’s even more true when Whitworth’s replacement, for now, appears to be 2015 first-round draft pick Cedric Ogbuehi. That’s after Ogbuehi was a disaster at right tackle in 2016, so unless another tackle is brought in, this is shaping up to be a big weakness for the team next season.
One has to wonder if Jake Fisher will move from right tackle (where he’s expected to start) to the left side, which is what he was originally drafted to be. But if that happens, there’s no one else to play right tackle, assuming Ogbuehi is still a disaster there.
That’s why taking a tackle in Rounds 2-3 could be in play, and there could be some good ones available. Alabama’s Cam Robinson, Temple’s Dion Dawkins, Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp and Western Michigan’s Taylor Moton could all be there for the Bengals to snatch on Day 2. Most, if not all of them would be an upgrade over what Ogbuehi has been thus far.
Biggest remaining draft needs: DE, RB, C, OT, OG, K, LB