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Projecting the Bengals’ needs for the 2019 NFL Draft

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With the 2018 draft now concluded, we take a way-too-early look at what positions the Bengals could be looking at in the 2019 draft.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NFL Draft’s 2018 edition is officially over, we can begin to look forward to the 2019 NFL Draft. While it may be a bit premature, we can look ahead and see what positions may hold the biggest needs for the Bengals about this time next year.

Quarterback

The perceived need at quarterback really depends on how you evaluate Andy Dalton. Outside of the 2015 season, he has never been considered a great quarterback, but he has also never been considered a bad one either.

Over the last few seasons, Dalton has turned into a solid game manager with a low interception rate and an ability to make a big throw now and then. His contract has him in a Bengals uniform, and it’s likely he stays during that time as long as Marvin Lewis is coaching the team.

The trio of backup quarterbacks behind Dalton (Logan Woodside, Jeff Driskel, and Matt Barkley) generally have the upside of being an NFL backup. Dalton will be 31 years old next year, but if he plays out his contract, drafting a quarterback in 2018 really makes no sense unless it’s a crazy Aaron Rodgers scenario where a great franchise quarterback type falls to you where there is just too much value to pass.

Running Back

At this point, the need for a running back is roughly the same as your need for a hole in your head. Heading into his second season with the Bengals, running back Joe Mixon flashed some signs that he may be a legitimate starter, and Giovani Bernard has shown that he is more than capable to handle third down and then some. With Bernard signed for two more seasons, and the fourth-round selection of Mark Walton recently, the Bengals really have no need at this position. Their need at running back is pretty low for next year’s draft.

Tight End

Regardless of what happens with Tyler Eifert, this looks like it will be a need in the draft. If Eifert has a productive, healthy season, he will price himself out of being re-signed by the Bengals. If he has another injury-plagued season, then the Bengals need to find somebody to replace him. Tyler Kroft is a solid role player, and C.J. Uzomah is adequate depth, but neither provides what Eifert can, when healthy.

Wide Receiver

The Bengals top wide receiver A.J. Green is signed for two more years. The Bengals have used high draft picks on John Ross and Tyler Boyd in 2016 and 2017. They have seemingly serviceable depth with Josh Malone, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson. The amount of need for a wide receiver in the 2019 draft will be directly tied to the development of Ross and Boyd. If they can become more productive members of the team, then the need for a wide receiver is diminished. But if they don’t, then receiver suddenly becomes a need with Green a year away from free agency.

Offensive Line

In 2017, the Bengals offensive line was such a disaster that it made congress look like a stable, cohesive, and productive group, by comparison. The Bengals struggled mightily at every offensive line position not called “left guard.” Over the past month or so, the Bengals have looked to remedy this situation by drafting Billy Price, trading for Cordy Glenn, and watching Russell Bodine sign with the Bills.

That’s a start, but the line is far from a finished product at this point. Assuming Glenn doesn’t get injured (he has missed 15 games the past two seasons), the team still needs to find an answer at right guard and right tackle. The assumption is that guys like Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman, who were seemingly held back by former offensive line coach Paul Alexander, are capable enough to step into the starting lineup. But right tackle doesn’t look so promising. There is very little, if any, good NFL game tape from the candidates Jake Fisher, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Bobby Hart. Unless one of them takes a miraculous step forward, right tackle will be a need in the next draft.

Defensive Tackle

The elite 3-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins will be a 31 year old free agent following the 2018 season. So too will presumptive starter Chris Baker, who was signed to a one year deal in this past offseason. Behind them sits a very inexperienced group of Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Josh Tupou and Andrew Brown. Keeping Atkins in orange and black needs to be a priority for the Bengals. If that doesn’t happen, and if the young group of guys like Billings don’t take that necessary step forward, a defensive tackle will become a big need in the 2019 draft.

Defensive End

Both starting defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson will be free agents following the 2018 season, and both will be 30 or older, too. The team will likely try to re-sign Dunlap to an extension, but if that doesn’t happen, the recent draft selections of Jordan Willis and Sam Hubbard (plus Carl Lawson) give the Bengals solid, young players to step into the roles vacated by Dunlap and Johnson. Unless the Bengals find themselves in a position to draft an elite defensive end in 2019, they really won’t have a need other than depth behind Hubbard and Willis (and possibly Dunlap).

Linebacker

Starting outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict has trouble staying on the field, while fellow starter Preston Brown is only signed to a one-year deal. Beyond that, they have underwhelming Nick Vigil and Vincent Rey, plus a very young, inexperienced group of linebackers. That equates to a whole lot of question marks for the future, making linebacker a need for the 2019 draft, barring several of the younger players emerging as good starters.

Cornerback

Starter William Jackson still has several years left on his rookie contract, while fellow starter Dre Kirkpatrick is locked up for many years to come. The Bengals also have several backups signed beyond 2018 such as Keivarae Russell, in addition to recent draftees Darius Phillips and Devontae Harris. Assuming they lose Darqueze Dennard, cornerback doesn’t look to be a big need unless Kirkpatrick continues to regress, and the backups show nothing to warrant playing time.

Safety

Both Bengals starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams are signed for several more seasons, and the team just drafted Jessie Bates III, who can play the deeper center field role, as opposed to the run support roles that Iloka and Williams are better suited for. That gives the Bengals three safeties signed for a while, plus Clayton Fejedelem who doesn’t hit free agency until 2020. Safety isn’t really a need for the 2019 draft.

Kicker

The Bengals surprised some of us by not drafting a kicker in the 2018 draft, and not even signing one as an undrafted free agent following the draft. Either the team is convinced that Randy Bullock will finally emerge from his mediocre veteran status, or the years of investment into Jonathan Brown will finally result in him becoming an NFL kicker. Assuming both Bullock and Brown stay the course, kicker could be a target, but with so many kickers available on the market, it really wouldn’t be a priority.

Punter

With Kevin Huber signed thru the 2020 season, drafting a punter seems about as likely as Tim Tebow or Colin Kaepernick taking another snap in the NFL under center.

Overall, taking a look at the roster as it stands today, the biggest needs for the 2019 draft seem to be:

  1. Right Tackle
  2. Defensive Tackle
  3. Tight End
  4. Linebacker