With the departure of Russell Bodine for Buffalo and the Bengals moving back to the 21st pick while getting Cordy Glenn, there seems to be one common theme to mock drafts recently: The Bengals taking a center or guard.
The names really depend on the mock drafter whether the Bengals end up with James Daniels, Billy Price, Frank Ragnow, or another of the top tier interior linemen.
SB Nation goes a different route with their most recent mock draft by Dan Kadar.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (via Buffalo Bills): Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The Bengals sometimes tend to fall in love with athletes, and that is certainly Vander Esch. Preston Brown was signed to just a one-year deal, and Vontaze Burfict is suspended the first four games of the season, so there should be an opportunity early for Vander Esch. A player like him could also lead to the release of Burfict altogether.
It is easy to forget how bad the linebacking group let down the Bengals last season. Injuries played a large part in it, but even when healthy the Bengals could rarely cover anyone from that position.
It created an easy weakness that plenty of teams picked on. Whether it was having speedy running backs break to the outside or having receivers and tight ends attack them in zone coverage. It was hard for Cincinnati’s defense to get off the field and the linebackers were a big reason.
As far as Vander Esch goes, he remains somewhat of a risk. He has only one year as a starting linebacker in college under his belt. It makes you wonder if he is just a flash in the pan or the real deal.
Either way, it seems like he has the tools and physical profile to eventually become at least a starting linebacker at the NFL level. He is the athletic linebacker that the Bengals have sorely needed for the past few seasons.
Burfict has been a talented linebacker, but he really hasn’t been great in coverage. Even Brown has shown some issues in coverage. He isn’t nearly as bad as some of the linebackers who have come through Cincinnati, but a team coming through with an elite level tight end will give him trouble.
Vander Esch possesses the athleticism to change directions on a dime that the other linebackers on the Bengals’ roster just don’t have. One issue he will have is gaining the strength to compete in the trenches to be an every down linebacker.
It should be noted that the Bengals did bring in free agent safety Eric Reid to visit, and there is a strong possibility that the team will sign him. If they do so we could end up seeing him more in the role of a safety/linebacker hybrid that would help cover up the Bengals lack of athleticism at the position. I’m not sure if the signing of Reid would affect the team drafting Vander Esch, but it is worth noting.
Overall, it is hard to go wrong between taking the best center at this spot, or if the Bengals draft the best player available here and then end up taking the second or third option at center in the second round. You could make strong arguments for either side.
All I know is you aren’t getting a linebacker on the same level of a Price or Ragnow in the second.