The NFL Draft achieves peak entertainment value when no one knows how the top of the first round will play out. For Bengals fans, they haven’t seen Cincinnati pick in the top five since 2011. When that happened, everyone in the city knew if A.J. Green was still on the board, he would become the next member of the team.
Unless something drastic happens in the next month, the Bengals will once again have one of the first picks in the draft, if not the first pick. With five months to go before the draft begins, there’s no debate over whom the best prospect in this draft class is, that’s Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. The question that will be on everyone’s mind is will Young end up being the first pick if Cincinnati has to make that choice.
Though he hasn’t officially declared for the draft, Young seems to have been unanimously crowned as the top player on the draft board. The guy that might give him a run for his money is LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, but according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Burrow is still clearly behind Young in the eyes of NFL personnel and coaches.
“I must have missed something,” one current NFC personnel man who has watched multiple Burrow games in person said. “Is he the best prospect in the land? Look, he’s good, there’s a lot to like. He’s going in the top three or four picks. But it would be impossible to grade anyone, including any quarterback coming out this year, above Chase Young.
“There is zero question Chase Young is the top prospect in the next draft. And being in a position to pick him and passing on him for a lesser talent would a tough thing to do.”
The Young vs. Burrow debate boils down to overall talent vs. positional value. Young is clearly viewed as a better edge rusher than Burrow is viewed as a quarterback, but Burrow plays the most important position in the game and is still a really good prospect in his own right.
For teams that don’t need a quarterback, the choice between them is more obvious than for teams like the Bengals, who currently don’t have a quarterback of the future.
“I wouldn’t stack him ahead of Young on our board,” an AFC assistant coach said. “Maybe I’m biased because I love our [quarterback], but if the Bengals are picking Burrow I’m sleeping better at night than if they’re picking the defensive end.”
But to some around the league, the Bengals are seen as a special case in this scenario. Selecting a quarterback usually grants a general manager and his staff some time and leeway with the organization, but as a team without a true GM, the Bengals go by how Mike Brown and his family see fit. Brown may not feel obligated to take a quarterback over the consensus best player in the draft.
“If my owner wants the best player and is willing to have patience on getting the quarterback, then Young would be my pick,” he said. “In Cincinnati, the general manager is the owner. He’s not going to fire himself. He can be patient. So he can easily pick the far superior talent and address the quarterback afterward.”
This is the perception of the Bengals organization and how it operates. While it’s accurate to a certain extent, it forgets that influence is also derived from the head coach and even from some public pressure. Zac Taylor will have as much say in whom the Bengals draft as anyone else in the building, and as the head coach, he’ll surely be interested in the quarterback position. Entering his second year without a quarterback to build around is not an ideal position for him to be in, especially when he’ll have no more than a few wins to his name.
Taylor will need to win as soon as possible, and an upgrade at quarterback can help with position a lot quicker than an upgrade at edge rusher. Taylor and the Bengals will also need to start winning back a fanbase that grows more estranged after each losing season. If they have the chance to draft the best quarterback in this year’s class, they’re probably going to take him, no matter how good Young is.