With the Bengals rolling into the 2017 season coming off their first postseason-less campaign since 2010, there were many questions surrounding the team heading into the draft. Head coach Marvin Lewis has yet to receive the now all too familiar one year extension that he’s usually seen come his way for the last few Aprils. As a result, I think there’s some obvious picks that really make it seem like the team is going all in this year, because some individuals at the top have no other choice than to bank on major success in 2017. Here are 10 immediate takes I have following the 2017 NFL Draft.
1) The wide receiver room is going to be an intense competition
The Cincinnati receiver room was already a pretty talented group, with A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd all having successful seasons in 2016. Cody Core also seemed to catch some steam late and Alex Erickson provided a huge boost in the return game. That said, the Bengals realized they severely lacked in speed outside of Green. Now, with the NFL’s version of The Flash in John Ross and a similarly fast receiver in Josh Malone from Tennessee added to the team, receivers coach James Urban is quickly running out of seats. It should be a brutal competition where I would say only Green, Boyd, and Ross are absolutely assured roster spots come Week 1. For a team that normally doesn’t have many position battles in camp this will be extremely exciting.
2) Veteran players may soon see an exodus
In a continuation from my previous point about wide receivers, the influx of a lot of young talent at once isn’t just limited to the offense. With a handful of defensive linemen being added to the team in the draft, as well as some young linebackers, both of those position groups could be due for a shakeup. We already witnessed the departure of long time mainstay Rey Maualuga in late March, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one who could be on his way out. On the defensive line, veterans like Wallace Gilberry, Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson could be at risk of being cut come training camp in August.
3) The team is confident in its young offensive linemen
With J.J. Dielman being the only offensive lineman drafted by the Bengals this year, and not until the fifth round, the team showed an unspoken vote of confidence in their front five. Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, and Andre Smith are long time Bengals so the team (and fans) know what they’re getting on the interior, although Smith will be making a move to guard for the first time in his NFL career. At tackle the team continues to stand by 2015 draft selections Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Neither wowed the Cincinnati faithful in either of their two seasons so far, but I would say Fisher showed some definite signs of promise toward the end of last season. Ogbuehi is still going through some growing pains, but the refusal to bring in another young tackle should go to show how confident the team is in his ability to get the job done.
4) Cincinnati continues to be a home for redemption stories
I don’t know if you heard or not, but the Bengals drafted Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the second round this year. Mixon also did an extremely bad thing while he was an 18 year old freshman in college, and was given a fair sentence for his assault plea. Most of the general media believes the Bengals are unfit as a team to help Mixon grow not only as a player but as a person in his NFL career, because Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict are on the team. I’ll give them Jones, because he’s had too many arrests to count in his career, but for all the rap Burfict gets for his on-field play, he hasn’t so much as jay walked off the field. Marvin Lewis is a player’s coach who has helped turn careers and people around before, and he can do it again. I also don’t think Mixon is a bad kid, just a guy who did a really stupid thing when he was young. People make mistakes.
5) Don’t sleep on the undrafted free agents
The Bengals had some really fun draft picks to add to the team this year, but they also added a lot of great undrafted free agents who I’m excited about. None of those free agents am I more excited about than Penn State’s Brandon Bell. The Nittany Lion linebacker anchored the PSU defense for years and led the team to the Rose Bowl last season. He would have likely been a late round selection if not for suffering an arm injury on the last snap of his college career. Bell is a hard worker who should provide an immediate impact on special teams and potentially work his way into the linebacker rotation.
6) The Bengals must love Jake Elliott
Everyone in the NFL knew the Bengals were going to take a kicker in this draft after cutting long time leg Mike Nugent in the middle of last season, and seeing less than perfect results from his replacement Randy Bullock. Most pundits pegged Zane Gonzalez as the top kicker in this years draft, and the one that would come off the board first. However, Cincinnati decided to use a fifth round selection on Elliott, the kicking prospect out of Memphis. He doesn’t have the numbers Gonzalez has, but he’s never missed an extra point in his career. More to his benefit, although Elliott only made 80% of his field goals in college, most of his misses were from the hash marks which are much wider in the NCAA than in the NFL. The Bengals have said they went with Elliott over Gonzalez due to his kickoff ability and it being superior to that of Gonzalez.
7) In a year of flashy picks, the team made some necessary ones
While many fans get excited over the acquisition of talents like Ross and Mixon, the Bengals also did their due diligence and gave the team some necessary help on the defensive line. Jordan Willis should work nicely into the Bengals edge rotation in time and Ryan Glasgow will be a plug right in the trenches of the line, taking up a role similar what Domata Peko played in his many years here. Out of all the rookie defensive linemen drafted, I could see Glasgow getting the most playing time early, competing with Andrew Billings for nose tackle snaps in camp.
8) Brandon Wilson is the poor man’s Jabrill Peppers
Cleveland made some day one draft noise toward the end of the first round when selecting everything man Jabrill Peppers. Late in the draft though, the Bengals essentially got a less known player in the same mold. That man, Brandon Wilson, has already been listed by the Bengals as both a running back and a safety, and he’s also capable of playing slot corner and returning kicks. Add in special teams duties and Wilson’s versatility will make him a huge boon to the team in an era where the 53 roster spots are a precious commodity.
9) Ross and Mixon should help immediately
Make no mistake - John Ross and Joe Mixon are the stars of this class. Both men should see plenty of early snaps, and I envision before the midway point of the season both men will be starting in their respective roles. Ross’ speed is too valuable to not make use of, if only to stretch a defense out vertically, which will help out valuable slot talents like Tyler Boyd tremendously. Mixon was all-around the best running back in this class from a pure football standpoint, and there’s nothing to suggest that he won’t play that way once the season rolls around. He’s the most complete back the Bengals may have seen since Corey Dillon and that will give fans something to be extremely excited about.
10) Andy Dalton has more weapons than ever
If anyone should be happy about this draft it’s the man wearing #14 himself. Dalton had a career year in 2015 with receiving threats like Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu complementing Green. In 2017, I would say the additions of Ross and Mixon to Boyd and Lafell give Dalton the most potent supporting cast he’s seen yet. This offense is incredibly deep at every position except along the offensive line. As long as the front holds up the way Lewis and Paul Alexander are expecting it to, there’s no reason this offense can’t produce 2016 Atlanta Falcons-like numbers this season.
Which Bengals rookie are you most excited about?
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