The way-too-early, nearly completely irrelevant grades are in!
Every year, within seconds of draft picks being made, NFL Draft analysts begin to assess picks that each team makes and assign a letter grade to those picks. NFL fans love reading about NFL Draft grades (yes, that’s why you’re here and why I wrote this article!) but you can’t really assess an accurate grade on a draft pick or draft class until the picks have actually played some football in the NFL. And beyond that, some believe you can’t accurately access a pick until three years after he’s been selected.
With that said, let’s talk draft grades! The Bengals had 11 selections in the 2018 NFL Draft and the team added five offensive players and six defensive players to the roster with those picks. I’ve rounded up a number of the big-name analysts’ thoughts on the Bengals’ draft class here and overall, the experts liked what the Bengals did in the draft. No one thinks the Bengals had the NFL’s best draft, but pretty much everyone agrees the Bengals added a nice haul of players who can make a lasting impact on the franchise.
Now, let’s get to the grades!
I could argue that I ranked another center higher than Billy Price where the Bengals took him at No. 21, but what I can’t argue is that they had to get a starting center in this draft. And my evaluations of Price and Iowa’s James Daniels were close, so this isn’t a reach. Cincinnati had one of the league’s worst offensive lines in 2017. It has already addressed left tackle with the addition of Cordy Glenn, and I thought the Bengals might try to add some more tackle competition for the right side. But Price is a good player who I thought would drop to Round 2 because of a torn pectoral muscle at the combine. Clearly Marvin Lewis & Co. think he can be a plug-and-play center, and they need it after Russell Bodine left this offseason.
After the first round, the Bengals did a good job not reaching and taking the best players available. Jessie Bates III (pick 54) is a good player with upside. I have compared Sam Hubbard (77) to Rob Ninkovich as a Swiss Army knife-type player with versatility. He wasn’t as productive last season as I thought he might be. Malik Jefferson (78) is a true 4-3 outside linebacker who was inconsistent for the Longhorns. I heard from a few guys in the league before the 2017 season that he was a potential first-round pick, but I didn’t see that on tape. Running back Mark Walton (112) had a disappointing 4.60 40 time, and an ankle injury hurt him last season. I wrote about cornerback Darius Phillips(170) during the season, and thought he was a potential playmaker who could play in the slot. He had three pick-sixes in 2016. I compared quarterback Logan Woodside (249) to Case Keenum, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make this roster.
Overall, this Cincinnati class lacks star power, but it’s solid.
It seems like the Bengals always take name players in the draft, and this year was no different. After missing out on center Frank Ragnow by a pick, the Bengals took Ohio State’s Billy Price in the second round. Price is never going to blow you away with athleticism, but he’s an aggressive and powerful blocker.
The Bengals picked apart the second day of the draft, getting a few starters. Safety Jessie Bates III is one of the draft’s best coverage safeties. He’s the type of safety the Bengals needed for the back of their secondary. Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard slid further than expected, but he’s a versatile player with good athleticism. A pick later, linebacker Malik Jefferson gives the Bengals another good athlete. Are you seeing a theme here for Cincinnati’s defense?
Running back Mark Walton of Miami, picked in the fourth round, was a good move as well. He should push Joe Mixon for carries.
For the Bengals, drafting an interior offensive lineman was like having terrible vision and then getting glasses—the need was so obvious, it was just a matter of what style they preferred. Billy Price will almost certainly start as a rookie, likely ahead of center T.J. Johnson. Cincinnati could still use a right guard ... too bad there wasn’t another Billy Price available in Rounds 2 or 3. The O-line must start generating at least SOME movement in the running game, and QB Andy Dalton is dependent on having a clean platform from which to throw because of inconsistent pocket mobility.
The Bengals restocked defensive depth in the middle rounds, drafting safety Jessie Bates, end Sam Hubbard and linebacker Malik Jefferson. That replenished depth is extra critical this year because every noted front-seven contributor’s contract, save for Vontaze Burfict’s, Jordan Willis’s and Carl Lawson’s, expires after 2018. Bates will replace Shawn Williams, who is better suited as a movable safety in sub-packages, but that transition may take a year to unfold, given that new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s two-deep scheme places a lot of mental burden on safeties.
Picking up Cordy Glenn from the Bills for a move down of 10 spots in the first round will help their offensive line, so that needs to be considered here. Selecting Price, a center/guard, continues the Bengals’ effort to get stronger up front, though I think there could have been more of a difference-maker selected here. The Bengals could have waited and landed a very good interior offensive lineman in the second or third round. The Bengals picked up an extra third-round pick by moving down a few spots in Round 2. Their back-to-back third-rounders -- Hubbard and Jefferson -- beef up their front seven. The games of both guys weren’t loved by scouts, but in the third round, these picks make sense. Jefferson could be a particularly good value if everything comes together as he matures. Walton is a well-rounded offensive weapon, presenting good value in the fourth round. I’ve been a fan of Harris since the fall. I suspect he’ll be a very good reserve corner in time. Brown met a need to improve the depth on the defensive line, and could be a steal if he consistently applies his quickness and strength. Woodside, Taylor, and Tate were all excellent picks late in the draft, though I thought they might pick a tight end since Tyler Eifert has had injury issues.
Day 1 grade: B
Day 2 grade: A
Day 3 grade: A
Overall grade: B+
The Bengals got a good value for a huge need in Price. Hubbard and Jefferson, although not transcendent players, can be key contributors. Cincinnati got good volume and variety, including two intriguing late-rounders in Woodside and Tate. The class is average overall, but it makes up for last year’s mess.
There may not be a Pro Bowler among C Billy Price, S Jessie Bates, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jefferson or RB Mark Walton. Yet all could quickly contribute for a franchise that generally doesn’t get enough recognition for drafting effectively.
1 (21) Billy Price, C, Ohio State, 83.82 (overall PFF grade)
(54) Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest, 78.33
(77) Sam Hubbard, Edge, Ohio State, 80.83
(78) Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas, 87.54
(112) Mark Walton, RB, Miami (Fla.), 86.15
(151) Davontae Harris, CB, Illinois State, n/a
(158) Andrew Brown, DI, Virginia, 77.15
(170) Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan, 84.27
(249) Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo, 84.17
](252) Rod Taylor, OT, Ole Miss, 83.17
(253) Auden Tate, WR, Florida State, 82.3
Day 1: The Bengals were rumored to have been targeting a center in the first round, and with our top center, Frank Ragnow, coming off the board right before their pick, they stuck with the need pick with Billy Price. He has experience playing multiple positions at Ohio State, capping his career with two solid years of grading (84.7 in 2016, 83.2 in 2017). Price is aggressive both as a run-blocker and in pass protection, a trait that works both for and against him. He ranked sixth in the draft class with a run-block success percentage of 92.0, but only 27th in pass-blocking efficiency at 97.6.
Day 2: Jessie Bates is one of few safeties who can hang with receivers in 1-on-1 situations, and he’s made a few spectacular plays when matched up in “quarters” looks. He’s also willing to mix it up in the run game, though he must do a better job of preventing big plays after missing 16 tackles on only 81 attempts last season. Sam Hubbard had a solid career at Ohio State, grading at 83.0 in 2016 and 80.8 last season. He’s done his best work in the run game as his best pass-rush grade of 79.0 came in 2016. Malik Jefferson started to live up to his five-star pedigree last year after struggling in his first two seasons. He ranked 14th in the draft class with a run-stop percentage of 12.1 percent, though he must cut back on the missed tackles after missing 36 on only 250 career attempts.
Day 3: Mark Walton has a number of spectacular cuts on tape, showing the quickness and speed to be a weapon as both a runner and as a receiver. He posted an excellent 86.1 overall grade last season before going down due to an ankle injury. Andrew Brown posted average grades throughout his career showing through in his 7.6 pass-rush productivity that ranked 28th in the class and his run-stop percentage of 5.6 that ranked 77th. Darius Phillips posted three solid years of grading at corner, picking off 12 passes and breaking up 26 on 206 targets. Logan Woodside is an intriguing backup option as he ranked 11th in big-time throw percentage in the draft class, but only 22nd at avoiding turnover-worthy plays. He posted grades of 86.3 in 2016 and 84.3 in 2017. Auden Tate can do damage in the red zone with his long frame and he ranked sixth in the nation with a 66.7 percent catch rate in contested situations last season.
Overall grade: Average