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7 prospects to watch at the NFL Combine

In truth, there are numerous guys the Bengals should be keeping tabs on in Indianapolis.

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As has often been previously said, the NFL offseason goes in stages. We’re on to a second phase of the late winter/early spring months in the form of the NFL Combine.

“The Underwear Olympics” as it has also been known to be called, is underway in Indianapolis as many prospective rookies have what is the most important job interview of their football lives.

Aside from viewing their performances in on-field drills, teams are privy to brief sit-downs with these prospects, which happens to be an important piece of the process. As the NFL Draft is just two months away, this week in the Midwest proves to be one of the big measuring sticks (pun aside) before Pro Days and the big weekend at the end of April.

Over the past couple of months on The Orange and Black Insider, we’ve been coordinating a list of intriguing rookies. This “2020 Prospect Watch List” has identified a number of players—most of whom will be participating in drills this week.

Names like Michael Pittman, Jr., Laviska Shenault, Zach Baun, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Andrew Thomas, Kenneth Murray, A.J. Green (not the one you think) and many others have piqued our interest. Those already on our list will also definitely be monitored this week, so check out past episodes to hear the breakdowns on them.

However, there is a slate of other prospects we haven’t had a chance to profile on the show, but are also under the Indy spotlight. John Sheeran and I had a small list of players in whom we’re interested in seeing how they test in various drills. Let’s overview the two that already finished their testing on Thursday

Adam Trautman, tight end, Dayton: On the surface, the tight end position seems to be low on the totem pole, in terms of need, but other elements point to it being a higher possibility than some suspect. Tyler Eifert is an impending free agent, Drew Sample was on I.R. last year, while C.J. Uzomah had his ups and downs after signing a pretty big contract last offseason. Furthermore, a big, pass-catching target is one of the best friends to a rookie quarterback.

In one sense, the Combine is built for a small-school guy like Trautman. He had very little to lose this week, but a lot to gain, in terms of raising his draft stock. His 6.78 3-cone time ended up as the fifth-best time for tight ends since 2006!

At 6’5” and pounds, Trautman is an ideal red zone and third down target for an offense. With the way he tested and showed out in other drills, he could easily be a day two pick now. It would be quite the ascent from a guy known as a “project player” after absolutely dominating the Senior Bowl.

Jalen Reagor, wide receiver, TCU: This year’s crop of wide receivers is loaded and there is a little bit of everything, in terms of player profiles. There are the bigger guys like Pittman, or the do-it-all guys in Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb.

Reagor has decent, albeit not towering size at 5’11” and 206 pounds, and a good workout was inevitable for the athlete he showed to be on tape. His 40-yard dash time of 4.47 was a slight disappointment, but his vertical and broad jumps of 42” and 138”, respectively, bring him towards the top of a deep crop. Reagor is a guy who may find an early niche with end-around and other gimmick plays a la Deebo Samuel with the 49ers last year.

Wide receiver is a sneaky need for the Bengals this year. Most folks are eyeing linebacker and offensive line as the top needs, but many factors at the position leave long-term questions.

John Ross has flashed, but has a significant injury history and is entering the final year of his rookie deal, while the A.J. Green contract talks have had their ebbs and flows this offseason. Joe Burrow often operated in four and five receiver sets, so the Bengals may want to give him as much boundary help as possible, should he be the pick. Reagor could be a night two option that won’t last long on Friday night, if he makes it that far after this workout.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back, LSU: This kid was a college football favorite towards the end of 2020 as the Tigers made their championship run. He showed great effort with the ball in his hands, often making something out of what should have been nothing.

Edwards-Helaire finished with 1,414 rushing yards, 55 catches and another 453 receiving yards, to go with 17 total touchdowns (16 rushing, one receiving) in 2019. At the onset of the Combine, Edwards-Helaire was reportedly impressive in his press conference.

At just 5’7”, there are questions on his size, though if a team was to bring on a player shorter in stature, the running back spot provides an ideal spot. He was once thought of as a day three guy, but with a good workout, he could hear his name called toward the end of night two.

Cincinnati is pretty set at running back, but two significant knee injuries the past two seasons to Rodney Anderson causes concern, as does the Joe Mixon entering the final year of his current deal (though the sides are talking).

Antoine Winfield, Jr., safety, Minnesota: The son of the former three-time Pro Bowl cornerback provides a lot of intrigue. Opinions vary on where he’ll land, but there is a lot to like from the youngster.

Common perceptions see a good workout definitively propelling him into night two. It won’t necessarily be the 40-yard dash that teams may be focusing in on Winfield, Jr., though.

Some of the knocks on his game revolve around some hip stiffness and a lack of ideal fluidity. The ball tracking drills where defensive backs flip their hips will be watched closes.

From a Cincinnati standpoint, the defensive backfield is in flux. At cornerback, Darqueze Dennard is an impending free agent, William Jackson III is entering the final year of his deal, while Dre Kirkpatrick is rumored to be a possible cap casualty. The safeties are a bit more set, though Clayton Fejedelem is another impending free agent.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is looking for a couple of other hybrid players in the secondary and those who may be able to help in the slot. He’d also like to potentially see a guy like Winfield, Jr. and Jessie Bates III play deep and move Shawn Williams into the box in some formations.

Cam Brown, linebacker, Penn State: At 6’5” and 230 pounds, Brown looks the part of an old school linebacker. Even with the size, Brown seems to move a bit better than expected.

Brown was a fringe day three to undrafted pick early in the process, but his stock has slowly begun to rise. He’s a little bit of a project, but a solid workout could cause scouts to go back to his film.

If Cincinnati opts to go quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver and defensive back in some order to begin their draft, Brown may be their target earlier on day three with a solid workout.

Matt Peart, offensive lineman, Connecticut: This kid is a monster, in terms of size. Would you believe that Purt actually measured as a larger lineman in some important areas than Georgia’s Andrew Thomas?

The film shows Peart being a solid pass protector holding down the fort. It also shows solid feet and athleticism as a project player.

“Development” is the operative word here, hence why he is projected to be a mid-round pick in April. However, if he wows scouts as they get an up-close look at his footwork in drills, he could be a hot name in a couple of months.

For the Bengals, they need tackle depth. Geoff Hobson recently confirmed the appearance of the team cutting ties with Cordy Glenn, but with both he and Jonah Williams sidelined last year, Cincinnati was throwing veteran guards out at left tackle. And, while Bobby hart played a bit better down the stretch, he’s had a rough two years in Cincinnati.

Jaylon Johnson, cornerback, Utah: This kid is a really intriguing prospect. Some of his tools, including his size, are first-round level, but inconsistent play because of a labrum injury in 2019 has raised questions.

His interceptions dropped from four in 2018 to two last year, but he returned picks for touchdowns in each season. Johnson is a willing tackler, as evidenced by his 102 total stops over the past three seasons.

Between his size, ability to play man coverage and willingness to be physical, he fits the profile of what the Bengals look for in a corner.

However, he’s set to have surgery to repair the injury after fully participating in the Combine (credit him for his toughness there). The recovery timeline there may cause him to be available later than what would be normal for an All-American and First-Team Pac-12 player.

If Cincinnati can’t work out something long-term with Jackson beyond 2020 and/or part ways with Kirkpatrick, Johnson could be a future starter they rely upon.

Also on this week’s episode:

  • Joe Burrow dispelled the media narrative on his not wanting to come to Cincinnati. Rejoice!
  • Not all national media members are anti-Bengals, as evidenced by our “Soundbite of the Week”.
  • Zac Taylor recently stated A.J. Green is in the long-term plans for the Bengals and he’ll be in Cincinnati this year. Are we surprised at the candid nature of his comments?

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