The off season is an exciting time in the NFL as teams look to add talent through the NFL Draft and free agency in order to build a championship team.
Adding talent is not the only way to improve. Young players often take a big step between years one and two in their career. While some players will shine immediately as rookies, many need time to develop and learn before they can show their true potential.
What has the Bengals’ 2017 draft class done so far and what can be expected of them in 2018?
When a team is making a selection in the top 10 picks of the NFL draft, they expect to get a player who can come in and make an immediate impact. That is not what the Bengals got with former Washington wide receiver John Ross.
Ross struggled with injury at both the beginning and end of the season. Even when healthy, Ross struggled to find his way onto the active roster. Ross ended his rookie campaign with zero receptions.
Obviously, the start to his career that Ross and the Bengals had hoped for. Bengals’ 2016 first-round pick William Jackson III was injured for his entire rookie season, but he came on strong in his second season. Ross is well known for his record setting 40-yard dash, but he is a much more complete receiver than people give him credit for. With any luck, he will bounce back and be an important part of the Bengals’ passing game in 2018.
The Bengals surprised no one by drafting Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the second round. While Mixon certainly showed some flashes in 2017, his overall performance was not particularly impressive.
The Bengals’ poor offensive line play and the staff’s resistance to making Mixon the feature back played no small part in this. With Jeremy Hill on to New England, all indications are that it will be a revamped running game with Mixon as the center piece in 2018.
With the addition of Cordy Glenn, and hopefully more changes to come on the offensive line, this could be Mixon’s breakout season.
Former Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis saw a decent amount of playing time as a rookie, and he should expect to see more in 2018. Willis is a physical freak who needs to develop his technique.
With Carlos Dunlap in a contract year and Michael Johnson being named as a possible cap casualty candidate, Willis could be seen as an eventual replacement for one of them. Willis has the raw athletic ability to become a major contributor in year two.
This round was huge for the Bengals who started it off by acquiring former Auburn edge Carl Lawson. Lawson was second on the team in sacks as a rookie and is expected to play an increased role in 2018. He may see more time lined up as a linebacker, but looks to be one of the cornerstones that the new defense will be built around.
The Bengals doubled down at the wide receiver position by drafting former Tennessee deep threat Josh Malone. Malone is seen as a work in progress, but saw some action as a rookie and looked promising.
Malone may not be one of the top three receivers on the team in his second year, but with his athletic ability he could be a guy who makes a couple of big plays to help them win some games.
Former Michigan defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow rounded out the 4th round for the Bengals. He say some time as a rookie and could see an increased role in 2018. He is a skilled run stopper, but the knock on him coming out of college was that he could not rush the passer.
With Pat Sims still unsigned, Glasgow could get a heavy workload on early downs next season.
The Bengals found a great kicker in former Memphis standout Jake Elliott, but unfortunately they let him slip through their fingers. Through a close competition in training camp, Randy Bullock managed to hold on to his job.
The Bengals also lost former Utah guard J.J. Dielman to a practice squad claim. After being acquired early in the season Dielman remains on the Denver Broncos roster. The fifth round ended up being a complete wash after only a few months.
Both players remain in the NFL and are still have potential to be excellent players, but not for the Bengals.
Many in Cincinnati are optimistic about Jordan Evans. The former Oklahoma linebacker who played sparingly in 2017 adds depth to a group that desperately needs it. With Vontaze Burfict facing a potential suspension to start the season, don’t be surprised if Evans sees a heavy dose of reps early in the season.
Former Houston defensive back Brandon Wilson spent most of 2018 on the practice squad, but he saw a little bit of action at the end of the season. He is likely to compete for a spot on the two-deep at safety and be a contributor on special teams in 2018. He is an excellent athlete who also played some running back in college.
The Bengals ended the draft just as the started it with a talented player who struggled with injury. Former Buffalo tight end Mason Schreck spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. Schreck will compete for a spot in a crowded group of tight ends in 2018.