While offensive line is clearly the biggest need for the Cincinnati Bengals, the team cannot overlook the cornerback position.
There are a number of NFL Draft prospects this year who could be in play for the Bengals at the 31st pick and would be well-suited to line up opposite Chidobe Awuzie, The issue lies in Cornerback being the hardest position to predict draft order. Who goes when never seems to line up with what the experts predicted. This is because what teams value at the position varies greatly.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean there is a chance that top talent like Sauce Gardner or Derek Stingley will fall clear to the end of the first round without any glaring red flags flying in the next few weeks. Sorry.
Beyond those two, I think there is a chance that just about anyone could be in play for the Bengals. Here are seven cornerbacks for Bengals fans to keep an eye on at the on-going Scouting Combine, with the first four being potential options for the Bengals at the end of the first round.
Andrew Booth Jr. - Clemson Tigers
Booth is a great fit for the Bengals. He’s extremely physical. In fact, when you start watching Clemson’s defense, one of the first things you notice is a cornerback throwing his body around to make tackles on swings and bubbles. Booth can get a little wild with this at times and will need to use his hands more consistently and control his body position to be a consistent tackler in the NFL.
He’s a very smooth runner who plays press man and zone coverages equally well. His reads and ball skills helped him grab five interceptions over the last two seasons. He is exactly what the Bengals look for in a cornerback.
Kaiir Elam - Florida Gators
What really stands out about Elam is how he transitions his eyes in man coverage. He does a great job of locking on to the receiver he is covering, and when the ball is in the air, he finds it instantaneously. Elam can get a little handsy on deeper routes, which can sometimes come with the territory as a bigger, more physical cornerback. He needs to learn how to stay on top of these routes without drawing a flag.
Elam shows the versatility to play both man and zone coverage effectively and has good ball skills. Overall, he’s an excellent athlete and a great fit for the Bengals’ defense.
Trent McDuffie - Washington Huskies
McDuffie loves contact and was used a fair amount as a blitzer. He shows incredible effort, flying around and trying to get involved in every single play.
His change of direction speed is unbelievable, which leads to great breaks in zone coverage. He is expected to be a little under six feet tall, which is not ideal. However, the fire that he plays with makes him someone the Bengals are sure to have interest in.
Kyler Gordon - Washington Huskies
Gordon has silky smooth hips, which allow him to easily turn and run with the receiver in man coverage. He reminds me of Sidney Jones, who also played at Washington, was a favorite of mine in the 2017 draft, and is currently a free agent.
He is excellent in man coverage, but he also makes great reads in zone, allowing him to break on routes and make plays on the ball. Being able to excel in both will make him a hot prospect.
Mario Goodrich - Clemson Tigers
Booth’s teammate Goodrich is not getting enough attention.
Goodrich seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make a play. He makes great reads on the quarterback and is a good tackler. He is exactly the type of player who could thrive under Lou Anarumo.
A good showing at the combine could get him into first-round conversation, if not he would be a great option on Day 2.
Alontae Taylor - Tennessee Volunteers
Taylor is another guy who the Bengals will love, but not in the first round.
He is extremely physical and lives for contact. He has some coverage skills, but I’m not sure about his speed. Fortunately, that’s why we have the combine. If he lacks the speed to play on the outside, he could transition to a strong safety or nickel corner role. This might be a better fit for him anyway because of how much he likes contact.
Marcus Jones - Houston Cougars
Jones is an interesting prospect. He is an absolute stud in coverage who is constantly making plays. He also returned six kicks and three punts for touchdowns in his college career.
The problem is that he’s going to measure somewhere around 5-foot-8 which will raise questions about how well he can play on the outside, often being forced to cover receivers who have six or more inches on him.
Jones’ best fit may be as a nickel/dime cornerback who is heavily involved on special teams. Essentially, he could be exactly what we hoped Darius Phillips would become, and with Phillips entering free agency, that could be a role the Bengals look to fill.
The Bengals have an excellent slot corner in Mike Hilton, but he and Jones have very different strengths. For example, Jones could come in to cover quicker, faster receivers in the slot. There is definitely a role for him in this defense.