Since the 2017 NFL Draft ended, Cincinnati has draw tons of praise and favorable reviews for their 11-man haul.
Two of the biggest reasons why are because the Bengals got two huge steals in Rounds 3 and 4, arguably the biggest steals any team got. It began with Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis in Round 3 at pick No. 73, despite nearly every major service ranking him as a Round 2 prospect.
Cincinnati followed that up by getting Auburn pass-rusher Carl Lawson in Round 4 at pick No. 116, despite the former Tiger getting first-round hype. Between Willis and Lawson at least one of them will almost certainly make an impact in 2017, and it won’t be a surprise if both do.
It just so happens SI is giving both players some love in their list of the eight biggest impact rookies of the 2017 NFL season.
Bengals defensive line: Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson
With middling play from the line last season, the Bengals’ defense dropped to No. 17 in DVOA last year (20th against the run and 15th against the pass), but the Bengals found upgrades via the draft. Both Willis and Lawson were at one point projected first-round picks, but both fell past the first night, with the Bengals drafting Willis in the third round and Lawson in the fourth. The two combined for 21.0 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss last season, and while as rookies that type of production is doubtful, both will provide reinforcements along the line and could in time return the Bengals’ defense to the level it reached on the playoff squads of recent years.
Everyone knows just how bad the Bengals struggled last year with the pass rush. But after not addressing it in the two first rounds, it looked like there was a real chance Cincinnati would come out of this draft without an immediate impact pass-rusher.
Luckily, the team landed two of them in the next two rounds after both were projected to go much higher. Few would have been surprised had both Willis and Lawson been off the board when Cincinnati went on the clock in even Round 3, being that CBS Sports ranked Lawson 45th overall and Willis 57th coming into the draft.
But, the Bengals stuck to their board and took Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon in Round 2, then wound up getting Willis in Round 3, followed by Lawson in Round 4. Now, both are expected to help upgrade the pass rush in 2017 which is why SI included both on their list of impact rookies.