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Bengals Mailbag: Promising UC prospects and first-round receiver possibilities

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We take a crack at answering some of our reader questions from this week. Are there any local prospects that could be worth a look? What about a receiver in the first round?

Russell Athletic Bowl - Clemson v Oklahoma Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The news surrounding the Bengals these days is more about rookie prospect visits and workouts over free agent signings. Though the possibilities on who the team could be grabbing with their 11 picks seem to be endless, the one thing we know is that the team believes the draft is the primary way they will rebound from a six-win season last year.

This week, we’ve been asked a number of questions--both directly to @CincyJungle on Twitter and on The Orange and Black Insider—and as it goes this time of year, the NFL Draft is on everyone’s minds. Send your questions to us on either platform to have them answered in this regular feature!

I very well may be in the minority, but I think the team is looking for some sort of pass-catcher at No. 9. The offense totally sputtered down the stretch in 2016—especially when Andy Dalton was throwing to a group that was without A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. When you review the film from the end of the year, you’ll see opposing defenses giving zero respect to anything beyond about 10 yards in the passing game.

Cincinnati made the somewhat-wise decision to re-sign Brandon LaFell at a relatively-affordable $4.5 million per year contract, but the need for a big-play guy opposite of Green is apparent. Everyone seems to have their preference, but at No. 9, Mike Williams, Corey Davis and John Ross all seem to bring some form of excitement to an offense that needs it after losing both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones last offseason.

Obviously, good arguments could be made for the team to draft a pass-rusher, linebacker or offensive lineman at No. 9, but they need to be careful not to reach for a guy out of desperation. It’s a weaker class for offensive linemen, while the team could be looking at the third or fourth best edge player in the draft at No. 9 as guys come off of the board. Does that sound like good value, if that’s the route they take?

The reason I’m more on board for offense in the early rounds for the Bengals this year is because of what the 2016 schedule results show. The team allowed 21 or fewer points nine times last year, with seven of those outputs coming from Weeks 10-17. In that same timeframe at the end of the year, Cincinnati scored 20 or fewer points five times. And, six of their nine losses were by one possession—obviously not including the tie against the Redskins in London.

I’m not saying Cincinnati should ignore defense in the early rounds, because they do need help in a number of different spots. I just think the offense lacked sizzle last year—especially once we saw Green and Eifert out of the lineup. Good teams find ways to get past injuries to their stars, and how they do that is by having other good players to lean on in those cases.

I’m more of a fan of taking a wide receiver than, say, tight end O.J. Howard at No. 9, but I also get the rationale there with Eifert’s injury history and his impending free agency status in 2018. Regardless, Howard, Ross, Davis or Williams should all be able to help the offense right away.

As for Tarell Basham, he’s an interesting guy who racked up 29 sacks while at Ohio University. He recorded 11.5 of those 29 career sacks last year and seems to be a coveted player in a draft full of interesting edge rushers. I always worry about the level of competition when talking about a MAC player, but he still was a near-dominant player in the conference.

He has good size (6’4”, 269 pounds) and a skill set that includes solid tackling and decent pass-rushing technique. I’m not fully sold that the rumor of the Bengals looking at him at No. 41 overall is true, but if they move back and he’s still available, he could be a nice get a little later than where they are currently slated to pick in the second round.

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Aside from sharing a name with the legendary heavyweight boxer, University of Cincinnati safety Mike Tyson is a solid player. He tends to be a little streaky, as evidenced by his three-interception game against Purdue and a two-interception performance against Tulsa last year, but he does flash athleticism and a willingness to tackle. He’s currently slated to be a Day 3 pick and might make an impact on an NFL roster.

Gunner Kiel is probably the most well-known prospect out of UC this year, mostly because he played quarterback, but I think he’s more of a undrafted guy whose best shot might start with him on a practice squad. He definitely has athleticism and a good arm, but needs some honing if he’s to latch on to an active NFL roster.

As for wide receiver Nate Cole, I like the 57 catches from 2016, but a paltry 9.1 yards per catch doesn’t blow anyone’s hair back. I don’t see him getting drafted, but he’ll also likely get a shot as an undrafted player somewhere.

Of the names mentioned, I am most intrigued by linebacker Eric Wilson. He was a tackling machine for the Bearcats last year, getting a 129 total, including eight games of 10 or more. The lack of big plays is a little worrisome, as is his slight stature at just 225 pounds, so NFL teams will need to have a specific plan in mind when adding him to their roster.

I wouldn’t mind the Bengals using a late-round flier on Wilson, especially if they use their high amount of picks to take care of a lot of needs early on. Cincinnati tried to create a “rover” type of position with Taylor Mays, so maybe Wilson can have the same kind of nickel niche in the NFL.