With the NFL Combine going to an all-virtual format, and the fate of pro days up in the air, last Saturday’s Senior Bowl might have been the first and last opportunity for the Cincinnati Bengals to get up close and personal with players they may select in this year’s NFL draft.
There were a number of players who saw their stock rise during the course of Senior Bowl week, and particularly in the game itself. Even the players who did not perform so well could conceivably find their way on to a Cincinnati roster.
Of course, the biggest area of need for the Bengals, at least at this point in time, is the offensive line, and there were a couple of small-school standouts for Cincinnati to consider in the mid to late rounds.
Topping that list is North Dakota State tackle Dillon Radunz, who was probably the second most impressive offensive lineman in the game, and who his teammates voted the best practice player of the week.
Radunz, at 6-6 and 304 pounds, has the size the Bengals’ covet. Despite his rough edges, Radunz shot up draft boards by week’s end and may have even worked his way into the top 50 in this year’s draft.
Following close on his heels was another small-school product and fan favorite Quinn Meinerz from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Meinerz, at 6-3 and 320 pounds, had an outstanding Senior Bowl week and should definitely hear his number called.
Among other things, Meinerz made a name for himself with his toughness. After breaking his hand in Thursday’s practice, Meinerz didn’t miss a beat and continued to dominate, even against tougher competition.
Grambling State guard David Moore, at just under 6-2 and 350 pounds, also helped his cause with his versatility. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Moore, who can play center and guard, boasts an 82 5/8” wingspan that helps hide some of his limitations.
Senior Bowl week was not kind to a number of big-school offensive linemen, but there are still several who could help and, with the right coaching, even end up in a starting rotation.
Perhaps as a result of a long season, Alabama tackles Alex Leatherwood and 364-pound Deonte Brown both looked a little sluggish, but still might find their names called.
Neither Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson nor Ole Miss guard/tackle Royce Newman did themselves any favors Saturday but should find themselves on an NFL roster at some point, as well.
But offensive line is not the only place Cincinnati needs help. With the status of Carl Lawson still up in the air, the Bengals are desperate for a quality edge rusher, and there were a couple who stood out during the week.
Ohio State’s Jonathon Cooper recorded a sack and a tackle for loss during the game Saturday, and dominated in practice. The 6-4, 257-pound fifth-year senior showed good quickness and extension and would pair nicely with former teammate Sam Hubbard.
Janarius Robinson of Florida State stands 6-5 and weighs in at 266 pounds. He also has an 87-inch wingspan, 35 3/4 inch arms and 11-inch hands, placing him among the top 10 percent of pass rushing prospects over the past 20 years.
Robinson was a beast in Senior Bowl practices and also boasts a solid run-defending ability that would certainly make him worthy of consideration.
Cornerback and wide receiver are both potentially areas of need for the Bengals, and there were a number of performances throughout the week that were sure to catch the coaches’ attention.
Probably the best coverage cornerback in attendance was Washington’s Keith Taylor. But Taylor has not had an interception since his sophomore year in high school and his ball skills leave something to be desired.
Probably the biggest winner at his position was Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, St-Juste is that big cornerback the Bengals need to counter some of the taller receivers in the league. St-Juste gave a good accounting of himself in practice and in the game.
At 6-2 and 212 pounds, Syracuse’s Ifeatu Melifonwu is another big cornerback who could fit nicely into Cincinnati’s scheme. He was solid in practice, but played a little cautiously Saturday night. Still, he is someone for the the coaches to keep their eyes on.
A trio of wide receivers made their presence known during Senior Bowl week, as well. Each could potentially bring a missing element to Cincinnati’s table.
Louisville’s Dez Fitzpatrick, at 6-2 and 210 pounds, has the size and speed the Bengals are looking for, and was the star of the show Saturday night. Fitzpatrick had six catches for 90 yards and earned Offensive Player of the Game.
But, with John Ross destined to hit free agency this Spring, Cincinnati will need to find someone else to take the top off of opposing defenses. Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge, at 5-9 and 188-pounds, has been clocked at 4.33 in the 40 and showed off outstanding route-running skills during the week, in addition to catching everything thrown his way.
Michigan’s Nico Collins may have the most upside of anyone in Mobile last week. Collins measures in at 6-4 1/4, weighs 215 pounds and boasts a 79-inch wingspan. Cincinnati ranked 30th in red zone scoring percentage last season, ahead of only the Giants and the Jets, and Collins could be just what the doctor ordered.
Finally, the Bengals were riddled with injuries along the defensive line this season, and three defensive linemen had good enough Senior Bowl outings to warrant a closer look.
Carlos “Boogie” Basham of Wake Forest, Tulane’s Cameron Sample, who Pro Football Focus named the “Most Valuable Defensive Lineman in College Football and Osa Odighizuwa of UCLA could all provide quality depth for Cincinnati.