The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror and the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams. A lot of buzz is surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals, as they hold the No. 1 pick.
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In the meantime, many of the questions this week centered around the wide receiver position. Because of injuries, a lack of players fulfilling their potential and the continuing evolution to Zac Taylor’s scheme, major questions exist in the group heading into 2020.
Could/Should the Bengals take a wide receiver as high as the second round?
One of the questions we received was in the possibility of the team grabbing explosive pass-catching talent early on night two. There is wisdom in the approach, despite needs on the offensive line and on defense.
With the impending selection of Joe Burrow seeming to be all but a lock at No. 1 overall for the Bengals, one is inclined to think that the team would want to surround him with as many capable weapons as possible. There is a plethora of talent in this year’s class to achieve this.
There are a couple other facets to consider here, as well. First, is the immense amount of injuries suffered at the position in 2019 and the previous track record associated with the players on the mend.
Three of the most important players in the group—A.J. Green, John Ross and Auden Tate—all landed on Injured Reserve in some capacity this year. In the cases of Green and Ross, it’s been a career theme for them over the past couple of seasons.
It’s also a pivotal year in the careers of those two, as Green is likely facing a franchise tag situation, while Ross may not receive the fifth-year option from the Bengals on his rookie deal. Even if they can be relied upon for the upcoming season, the future is sketchy at 2021 and beyond for a Burrow arsenal.
Aside from that, the Bengals mightily struggled to score points last season. Cincinnati averaged just 17.4 points per game last season, scoring less than 20 points in 11 of 16 games.
Additionally, Cincinnati finished with the 19th-ranked passing offense, in terms of average yards per game, and that was inflated by some big stats in the last few games. Tyler Boyd was the only consistent threat at receiver, though some like Tate are still developing.
The injuries at wide receiver played a major role here, but additional sizzle is definitely needed. And, if Cincinnati plans to implement an offensive plan akin to the multiple wideout look LSU utilized with Burrow, a wide variety of weapons should be at the quarterback’s disposal.
All of this points to the logic in potential usage of a high pick at wide receiver. At No. 33, guys like Colorado’s Laviska Shenault and LSU’s Justin Jefferson could bring immediate help and depth to the group.
However, both Dave Lapham and Geoff Hobson believe Night Two will be used on defense. Cincinnati needs play-makers on that side of the ball, as Lou Anarumo is undoubtedly looking to get more out of the pass-rush and turnover departments.
One could also say that one of the deepest positions in the 2020 class is wide receiver. Starting caliber players can likely be found on Day Three, depending on how long the usual late-first/early-second-round run on the position lasts.
What is the preferred skill set from the position?
If the Bengals do indeed wait until Day Three to address the wide receiver, it’s unlikely they find a guy who has the total package of hands, speed and elite route-running ability. Cincinnati will likely need to choose between stretching the field, or finding savvy guys who can move the sticks and/or produce in the red zone.
On one hand, the Bengals need speed. With Green and Ross out of the picture for much of the year, downfield threats were basically non-existent. Boyd would pop the occasional big play, but successful deep balls were few and far between.
And, while Burrow doesn’t have a cannon, he showed that he was more than capable of completing deep balls with regularity last year. The Heisman Trophy winner did so to receivers with a myriad of skill sets.
If Taylor is indeed trying to implement a Rams-style system, speed is a needed element. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods can stretch the field and take effective jet sweeps frequently, so grabbing another receiver in that mold makes sense for the Bengals.
On the other hand, Cincinnati also needs guys who can find ways to get open. Sure, speed assists in that way, but we’ve seen occasions where Ross’ record-breaking wheels haven’t been able to compensate for drops and/or what seems like running an incorrect route.
Burrow can “throw guys open”, but rookie quarterbacks need receivers they can trust to be in the right spot. We’ve seen young signal-callers get discouraged in the early portions of their careers because of miscommunication with their receivers.
All in all, speed is probably the priority, as it’s a trait that can’t be coached and it was glaringly omitted from the position group last year. But, they may change if Green comes back in the fold and the team believes Ross can remain healthy in a crossroads year in his career.
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