The 2022 NFL Draft is quietly approaching with pace. This week, the Scouting Combine makes its return after a year of absence due to COVID-19, and mock drafts will soon become more and more frequent and in-depth.
Sitting at the 31st pick in the first round, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a much different spot compared to years past. They won’t have a clear idea as to who will be available for them to draft until the draft is well under way. For this reason alone, they need to fill their biggest needs—specifically at offensive line—long before the draft begins in free agency.
It’s this rationale that ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. used for Cincinnati in his latest mock draft. Instead of a blocker for quarterback Joe Burrow, Kiper slotted the Bengals Washington Huskies cornerback Kyler Gordon. Here’s what Kiper wrote about the pick:
“Why no offensive linemen here? Because the Bengals shouldn’t force it to try to fill their biggest need,” Kiper wrote. “In this scenario, I didn’t have another lineman with a Round 1 grade; Daniel Faalele (Minnesota) and Tyler Smith (Tulsa) are more likely to go in the first 15 picks in the second round. Cincinnati, which has salary-cap space, could also address the position in free agency. Instead I went with a corner in Gordon who has the length and physical traits to be a No. 1 guy in the NFL. He had two interceptions last season and showed some high-end coverage traits.”
Cornerback is indeed an area of need for the Bengals. Trae Waynes is expected to be released this offseason for cap purposes, and they could use a long-term replacement for him. Eli Apple could also be retained, but it would be wise for them to inject more talent at that spot regardless of his fate.
On top of that, when the Bengals opt for defense in the first round, cornerback is almost always the position they take. Five of their last six first-round defenders have been cornerbacks, with linebacker Keith Rivers being the lone exception.
Gordon, who’s listed at 6-0 and 200 pounds, is currently Lance Zierlein’s fourth-rated cornerback for his NFL.com rankings. Zierlein’s player comparison is Miami Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones, and according to an AFC scout, Gordon’s a “ridiculous tester and athlete,” so we should be in for a show this weekend at the combine. Perhaps he’ll push his way up draft boards to the point where the Bengals can’t pick him.
30 players will be drafted before the Bengals go on the clock, and predicting the last picks of the first round is always difficult. Gordon’s just the latest name to learn before late April.