The Bengals loaded up on offense early in the draft, but ended up selecting an even number of offensive and defensive players: five each. To make it to 11 draft picks, one selection was spent on special teams. The strategy was met with plenty of immediate criticism, as many thought the team needed to allocate more resources on the defense, especially in Rounds 1-2. Still, most analysts agree the defensive players the Bengals did pick up were very good selections, and the Rounds 3-4 picks were actually projected as Round 1-2 picks by many draft experts.
Each of the five defensive additions bring their own elements and improvements to the team, so let’s go through and highlight how each player can help the Bengals this season.
Round 3, No. 73: Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State
What he brings to the team: Work ethic, high motor, starting experience
How he can help in 2017: Expected by some to be a late first or early second round pick, the Bengals were thrilled to see Willis fall to them in the third round. For his flaws that caused teams to pass over him, he is a relentless worker who has a chance to work through every fault in his game at the NFL level through sheer will power. The Bengals will appreciate his motor and versatility, but also his starting experience. Not many players start for three years in college, but Willis did. If he can learn more finesse, timing, and technique at the NFL level, he could be a very productive long-term starter for the Bengals.
Round 4, No. 116: Carl Lawson, DE/LB, Auburn
What he brings to the team: Explosion, agility, power
How he can help in 2017: One of the most highly sought-after five star recruits out of college in 2013, Lawson struggled to develop into the player everyone expected him to be until his final year in college. Granted, his slow development was largely due to injuries. But, his reduced playing time took a toll on his ability to develop pass rushing techniques, hip flexibility, anchor, and tackling technique. Still, his natural aggressiveness, power, and raw attitude were too much for the Bengals to pass up in the fourth round. If defensive line coach Jacob Burney can teach him everything he’s missed out on while recovering from injuries for most of his college career, the sky's the limit. Still, his rough first three years and strong 2016 season, make him pretty raw entering the NFL.
Round 4, No. 138: Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
What he brings to the team: Strength, toughness, dependability
How he can help in 2017: In college, Glasgow was known as a player who wanted to be part of every play. For the Bengals, that combined with his love for squaring up with linemen head-on should be perfect for pairing him up with Geno Atkins. Although he was picked in the fourth round and expected to be taken later due to a substantial lack of punch in his attack, he has a certain level of competitiveness and consistency that could help him develop into a starter for the Bengals. Don’t forget, Atkins and Domata Peko were fourth round draft pick as well, and Glasgow will likely be competing with fellow fourth round pick Andrew Billings as the eventual long-term replacement to Peko.
Round 6, No. 193: Jordan Evans, ILB, Oklahoma
What he brings to the team: Football IQ, athleticism, coverage ability
How he can help in 2017: After signing former Arizona Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter in free agency, linebacker became a much less significant need for the Bengals in the 2017 NFL Draft. That said, there was still plenty of need for the Bengals to build up their depth at the position. Evans might not be the most brutal, hit-loving linebacker to ever come into the NFL. But, he understands the game better than most players just coming out of college. His play speed and athleticism are particularly extraordinary. He could develop into another great rotational lineman in the image of Vincent Rey if he can learn to be more physical and determined as a linebacker.
Round 6, No. 207: Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston
What he brings to the team: Versatility, return ability, speed
How he can help in 2017: Brandon Wilson is an enigma. He was a quadruple threat at running back, cornerback, safety, and kick returner for the University of Houston during his college career. Most analysts expect him to transition to a role as a pure running back at the NFL level, but the Bengals appear to have taken him with the expectation of developing him as a defensive back. As the Bengals probably don’t want to risk injury to first round pick John Ross, Wilson will probably provide the stiffest competition to Alex Erickson’s kick returning spot and might manage to push guys like KeiVarae Russell, Derron Smith, or Clayton Fejedelem for a spot in the defensive backfield. That said, he will need to significantly improve his play strength as a cornerback if he wants to make it as an NFL player who contributes on more than just special teams.