The Zac Taylor era in Cincinnati has gotten off to a shaky start.
They have made some bold-yet-head-scratching hires and struggled to fill the remaining positions on the defensive side of the ball. Fortunately, they managed to find a defensive coordinator in time for the NFL Combine, but that hire left something to be desired as well.
The NFL Draft will provide a great opportunity for the Bengals to get back on track. Cincinnati has many needs on both sides of the ball. Fortunately the Bengals have a wealth of picks, including three compensatory picks in the 6th round.
Nearly all of the mock drafts up to this point have had the Bengals selecting LSU linebacker Devin White in the first round. This was an obvious choice, since he is the top-ranked player at a position where the Bengals have a desperate need.
Offensive line continues to be a need and the Bengals overall lack of offensive depth is painfully obvious. Free agency threatens to add more needs, particularly if the Bengals lose Darqueze Dennard and the majority of their tight ends,
Here is my first attempt at solving some of the Bengals problems with a 3-round mock draft.
1st round - Jawaan Taylor - 6’5” 328 - offensive tackle - Florida
Bobby Hart is a free agent, but even if he returns the Bengals have a major need at right tackle. There are some very talented offensive tackles in this draft. With the 11th pick, the Bengals will be in the position to take one of the top players and find a long term answer at the offensive tackle once and for all.
Alabama’s Jonah Williams was the top ranked offensive tackle early on, but is now being challenged be several others including Oklahoma’s Cody Ford and Ole Miss’ Greg Little, but Taylor is my choice for the Bengals here.
Taylor is skilled as both a run blocker and a pass blocker. He was a three-year starter and has the size and athletic ability to be an excellent tackle in the NFL. As a run blocker, he plays with great strength and leverage and gets movement and is able to reach block to open up outside runs. In the pass game, he sets well with a low base and makes the edge player work to get around him.
2nd round - Mack Wilson - 6’2” 239 - linebacker - Alabama
After years of neglect, linebacker is perhaps the Bengals’ biggest need. Vontaze Burfict is not the talent he used to be. Preston Brown played well before injury, but is a free agent and not guaranteed to return. Jordan Evans and Nick Vigil have showed potential, but not given the team what they need at the position.
Wilson could be the answer. For years the Bengals acquired linebackers who were talented run stuffers, but weak in the pass game. Wilson ain’t that. He is excellent in coverage and makes plays all over the field. He is also a great tackler, which is something the Bengals struggled greatly with in 2018. Wilson could start immediately as an every down player for the Bengals defense. He is exactly what the Bengals need and just like Jessie Bates in 2018, he would give them an immediate impact player in the second round.
3rd round - Jace Sternberger - 6’4” 250 - tight end - Texas A&M
With Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, and C.J. Uzomah all potential free agents, the Bengals may need to find a tight end in the draft.
This a great year to need a tight end because the draft is loaded with them. While people will be arguing over the next several weeks about whether Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. or one of Iowa’s tight ends (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) should be the first off the board, the depth in this class will allow teams to get a potential starter at the position on Day 2.
Sternberger may not be getting the press that some of these other guys are right now, but he could see a huge rise after the NFL Combine. Sternberger is from Texas A&M, which is apparently where the Bengals do most of their staffing at this point. He has arguably the best pass game film of any tight end in the draft. He is a talented receiver with great ball skills and lines up both on and off the ball.
While he could get stronger, Sternberger is a decent enough blocker to make an early impact in the run game. Adding Sternberger in to the mix with Cincinnati’s other pass-catchers would give the offense a real jolt.