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How strong is Bengals’ need at wide receiver in 2017?

The Bengals are likely to draft a wide receiver in 2017. But, it shouldn’t be as big of a priority as some fans and analysts make it seem.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals seem to have five spots on the wide receiver roster figured out for 2017. Looking at the position, broken down by player and role, it seems, save for one spot, this group should be more focused on developing the talent already present in Cincinnati rather than looking to bring a lot of new talent in.

A.J. Green is the superstar receiver who regularly terrorizes NFL defenses during the course of a game. Brandon LaFell is the veteran complementary receiver who both produces respectable stats and mentors the young players. Tyler Boyd is the young prodigy who performed well in his rookie season and is only expected to get better from there; his role is in the slot. Cody Core is the clear backup, but he brings a certain element of determination in addition to his incredible size and respectable speed, which make him an extremely valuable asset to the team going forward. Alex Erickson hasn’t contributed much as a wide receiver and isn’t expected to take on a big role on offense, but he is already one of the best kick returners in the NFL and isn’t going anywhere on that merit.

The Bengals typically carry six receivers on their roster, so there is room for one more. The final spot was filled by James Wright in 2016, but he was released earlier this offseason, likely a result of his lack of development, largely due to his knee injuries. However, the Bengals already have Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, and Chris Brown at the wide receiver position ready to compete for that final spot.

Therefore, the Bengals’ focus on prioritizing wide receiver in the draft doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, the Bengals need to fill the last wide receiver spot before the 2017 season starts. Yes, relying on players who have failed to make the roster in the past isn’t the best strategy for filling that role. But, do the Bengals need a Round 1 receiver, who expects to be a No. 1 receiver? That doesn’t make much sense for a Bengals team with a 28-year old Green.

It certainly makes sense for the Bengals to select a wide receiver in 2017, considering the vast number of draft picks they have to play with (11). But, it would make more sense to take a pair of wide receivers in the later rounds, rather than investing into a player in the first round who expects to become one of the faces of the franchise.

In theory, pairing Green with another first-round caliber receiver might make sense in the future as LaFell is already 30 years old, prompting the Bengals to think about what happens when he starts to slow down. But, in 2017, there just isn’t enough space to properly utilize everyone in the game plan if the Bengals were to add another superstar talent.

That is why the Bengals would be better off picking up a couple of receivers late in the draft for now, and potentially picking up another superstar receiver in a year or two. It is too easy to get stuck in the Browns’ dilemma of constantly turning over the roster in the pursuit of high-end talent, yet failing to commit to developing that talent while looking for more high-end talent for the future.

In fairness, the Bengals have largely stuck by the ‘best player available’ strategy in the early rounds of the draft. If the club truly believes there isn’t a better player available than a wide receiver when they pick at No. 9 overall, you can bet the house on them selecting that player. But, in the same token, if a defensive end, defensive tackle, or linebacker is the best player available at that particular point in time, they shouldn’t and likely won’t consider a wide receiver at that point.

With 11 draft picks, the Bengals can afford to invest in a different position early on and still expect to add plenty of talent to the wide receiver corps when the opportunity presents itself. At the end of the day, the Bengals’ primary focus should be improving the whole roster, rather than focusing on making a big splash at a position that already has plenty of talent to be excited about.