The Bengals have developed a reputation for not playing rookies starting on Day 1. The team loves to slowly bring along its rookies, having them ride the bench before inserting them into the lineup. This has its benefits, but the team has also seen the negatives like starting 0-3 last season while relying on veteran players who probably should’ve been benched.
This led to a resurgence a couple times during the season when the Bengals did play their younger players, like William Jackson for example. It wasn’t enough to save the season, but we saw some positives from younger guys on the roster during the season. Will this lead to more of these draft picks seeing playing time next season?
Marvin Lewis said this offseason that rookies will need to earn their playing time if they’re to see the field this season, so what should we expect from the 11 draft picks the Bengals selected this season?
Round 1: Billy Price, center: Starts every game and offers an immediate improvement
The Bengals had to draft a center due to the departure of Russell Bodine in free agency. This led to them picking Price in the first round with the pick they got in the Cordy Glenn trade. Right now he is recovering from a partially torn pectoral, but doctors have assured him he will be ready with time to spare for training camp.
This is huge because based on his talent alone he should beat out T.J. Johnson for the starting spot. Price’s strength and initial burst are things the Bengals haven’t had for a very long time at the center position. It will be strange to not see the team’s center constantly getting pushed back into Andy Dalton’s lap. While Price has to clean up a few technical issues, he is already better than what the Bengals had in Bodine. Plus Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack should help him develop throughout the season.
Round 2: Jessie Bates, safety: Rotational player, does enough for us to look forward to his future
Bates is in a nice situation where he can sit back and learn from two really good safeties in George Iloka and Shawn Williams. We should still see the Bengals’ defensive coordinator send him out there for more of a three-safety type defense and he’ll get rotated in at times, too. He could allow Williams to move up toward the line of scrimmage while taking Iloka’s role as the deep safety.
The Bengals will likely start shifting toward Bates being the deep safety due to the change in the rules that makes unnecessary roughness calls more frequent because of the limitation on head shots being expanded. This hurts Iloka’s value since he often goes to lay the lumber rather than the play on the ball. Bates is more of the playmaker, so it makes sense they want to see him get some experience there.
Round 3: Sam Hubbard, defensive end: Chris Smith role, could gain snaps
This one is pretty easy. The Bengals lost Chris Smith this offseason in free agency. He was a guy who could rush the passer from the inside as well as the outside, which is similar to Hubbard’s skill set. He will start the season as a rotational player who will be competing with Michael Johnson and Jordan Willis for snaps. Hubbard will be helped by the fact the Bengals want to play Carl Lawson as more of a linebacker this season, which should free up more plays for the defensive ends. If he gets some sacks he could start seeing more and more playing time.
Round 3: Malik Jefferson, linebacker: Special teamer, limited plays on defense in nickel situations
Fans are probably getting too excited over what Jefferson can bring to the table in 2018. Even with the Bengals missing Vontaze Burfict for four games due to suspension, the Bengals have several young linebackers with game experience they will likely give the nod to over Jefferson, a rookie. Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans and even Brandon Bell will have opportunities at Burfict’s spot during his suspension. Not to mention, we should expect a huge dose of Preston Brown. Jefferson may get some use if injuries hit as well as on special teams. It is hard to say if the Bengals will give him a shot on obvious passing downs, but he is a player I’d expect to have a bigger role down the line and not so much in his rookie year.
Round 4: Mark Walton, running back: Quality backup with situational use
It is hard to believe Walton will see more than five to 10 snaps a games as a running back. With Joe Mixon poised to take the reigns as a full-time starter and Giovani Bernard coming into the season healthy there doesn’t seem to be a lot of use for Walton in 2018, save of injuries. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a few plays where he impresses us, but unless Mixon or Bernard goes down he won’t get much playing time. He will see some run as a special teamer, though, which was an area in which he excelled in college. The Bengals are excited about his potential on special teams, which is likely a big reason why he was drafted despite the lack of a need at the running back position.
Round 5: Devonte Harris, Corner: Backup and special teamer
Unless one of the big three in William Jackson, Darqueze Dennard or Dre Kirkpatrick go down, Harris won’t be out there much. Even if they do, the Bengals may opt to use Bates instead to have one of the safeties cover the slot. Harris will have to make his mark on special teams while competing with Darius Phillip and Josh Shaw for the fourth corner spot.
Round 5: Andrew Brown, defensive tackle: Rotational player
Brown will be competing with the Bengals’ young defensive tackles in Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow and Josh Tapou for snaps. You will probably see a few flash plays out of him, but nothing that will make you pound the table demanding he starts next to Geno Atkins.
Round 5: Darius Phillips, cornerback: Returner and backup
Phillips will be competing with Harris and Shaw for the fourth corner spot on the depth chart, but maybe more importantly, he will be competing with Alex Erickson for the returner spot. Phillips returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of his four years at Western Michigan, and he returned several interceptions as well. Erickson has yet to take a kick or punt back for a touchdown in the regular season after two years in the NFL.
Round 7: Logan Woodside, quarterback: Third stringer unlikely to see the field
Woodside may be destined for the practice squad, but I think he shows enough during camp and preseason to warrant being the third string quarterback. I would be pretty shocked if the Bengals were comfortable enough to list him as second string though.
Round 7: Rod Taylor, offensive lineman: Practice squad
Taylor will need to prove quite a bit to make the 53-man roster. He has a ton of potential, but that will likely take time to unlock. Besides, the Bengals know how to play the roster game. They can keep Christian Westerman and Alex Redmond on the roster and effectively have an extra lineman on the practice squad. Though, the team tried to sneak J.J. Dielman onto the practice squad last year and failed as he was signed away by the Rams and then the Broncos.
Round 7: Auden Tate, wide receiver: Practice squad
The Bengals have a ton of receivers already on their roster. As much as they’d like to get more from Tyler Boyd and Cody Core, I’m not sure Tate is ready to fill a role the team doesn’t already have in year one. Besides, he doesn’t really have the athletic ability to contribute on special teams, which will likely push him toward the practice squad as well.