The Cincinnati Bengals were on a mission to continue to improve their football team after the selection of Joe Burrow at No. 1 overall. Cincinnati had just two picks on Night 2, but made massive improvements to both sides of the football.
Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins gets added to a massively-talented, albeit injury-riddled position group, while Logan Wilson fills one of the team’s biggest positional needs. Here are the biggest winners and losers from these decisions.
Bobby Hart: Cincinnati had Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones ripe for the picking on Friday night—twice. Jones didn’t get selected until a few picks into the third round when Arizona called his name. Apparently, the rest of the NFL wasn’t as enamored with his skill set as his Pro Football Focus scores would indicate.
The Bengals have told us all offseason they like the state of their offensive line more than the rest of us. When they passed on Jones, Lucas Niang and others, they made it clear that they’re fine with Hart on the right side for 2020.
That could change on Day 3, but the immediate starting ability of the available tackles is questionable. For now, Hart has seemed to maintain his starting spot for the third consecutive season.
Michael Jordan: Along the same lines of Hart, Cincinnati believes in the collection of veterans and young players they’ve amassed on the line. It’s possible the team makes more moves on Saturday to contradict this notion, but they’re not throwing in the towel on Jordan after an up-and-down year.
Joe Burrow: What’s the best way to support your new franchise quarterback? Give him protection and/or weapons.
Cincinnati provided the latter in Tee Higgins and his 27 career touchdown receptions at Clemson. Higgins high-points the ball well and fights off defenders, giving Burrow a physical presence at wideout.
We don’t know if Burrow had some sway with the Bengals in the pre-draft process, but this offseason has some signals of the rumor. Cincinnati was uncharacteristically active in outside free agency and then drafted a guy who worked out with Burrow in Southern California earlier this spring.
Lou Anarumo: Some folks (also me) thought the Bengals could go all offense on the first two days since they went so heavy on defense in free agency. However, Cincinnati got a player they hope can anchor the middle of their defense for years.
Josh Bynes was brought in to stabilize the linebacker corps on a one-year deal, but he’ll be 31 years old by the time the season begins. Third-round pick Logan Wilson can contribute on a rotational basis on defense and on special teams as a rookie, but can supplant Bynes as soon as 2021.
Anarumo has his seventh new addition to his defensive unit and all seem to have a shot at having heavy roles this year. Wilson was a favorite of Pro Football Focus this offseason.
A.J. Green: Hear us out on this one. A lot of folks see the Tee Higgins pick and automatically assume it’s the writing on the wall for the future Hall of Fame receiver to be shown the door in the near future. Some even began to wonder if Green will be trade bait because of Higgins’ arrival.
Instead, a potential new role for Green has emerged, alongside the team’s need for him to be his studly self. It’s one of a mentorship to Higgins, who grew up a Bengals fan and idolized Green. He will not only stick to him like glue, but also hopefully open things up for the veteran on the field, as he enters the back-nine of his career.
Tee Higgins: Speaking of the second-round pick, it couldn’t really have fallen a better way for the kid. Longtime fan of the club, playing next to his idol in Green and receiving passes from a generational quarterback talent?
Yeah, he’s stoked.
Brian Callahan: The Bengals’ coaching staff got a late start with things last year and the ownership probably told them to see what they could do with a glut of Marvin Lewis holdovers. It culminated in a 2-14 season.
Now, Zac Taylor and Co. have seemingly gained massive sway with ownership, as evidenced by the $100-plus million free agency foray and in their selecting of “their guys” in this year’s class. Callahan has a new franchise quarterback and potential future WR1 at his disposal.
John Ross: Where does the speedy No. 9 overall pick fit in with things going forward? He’ll see his rookie contract through (expires after this year) and is coming off of a career year, but if Higgins proves he’s immediately ready to contribute (while also staying healthy), Ross might be relegated to a niche role.
In truth, Ross seems to feel more comfortable in Taylor’s system, but time is running out on the experiment. He’ll need to stay healthy and show major development in 2020 to be in the top-four at the group.
Thankfully, the Bengals are planning to spread things out—both because of the talent at receiver and Burrow’s comfortability in that look.
Alex Erickson: It’s suddenly getting awfully crowded in the receiver room. The top five pass-catchers are comprised of two former top-10 picks (Green, Ross), two second-round picks (Higgins and Tyler Boyd) and emerging juggernaut, Auden Tate.
If you throw in the borderline Pro Bowl return man seasons from both Darius Phillips and Brandon Wilson last year, it’s hard to see a significant role for Erickson going forward.
Hardy Nickerson: This cat may be getting toward the end of that ninth life. He keeps hanging on to a roster spot as an inside linebacker, but the additions of Bynes and Wilson may push him out of a job.
While he has gained critics, Nickerson has made the most of opportunities and has done everything coaches ask of him and then some, but it hasn’t been enough, in terms of production. Cincinnati has just made it a priority to improve at the position and it could prove the end of the line for Nickerson.