Information is king when it comes to the NFL Draft, so you best not disclose too much of it publicly.
Cincinnati Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin knows this all too well. When he speaks, you need to listen carefully to hear the nuggets of worthwhile knowledge.
Cincinnati’s de facto General Manager keeps his cards close to his chest at all times. Local media was able to get a peek at his deck a week before the 2022 Draft begins. Here are some takeaways from his 30-minute presser:
Thinking for the future
Maintaining continuity was a goal for the Bengals coming off their Super Bowl run. That’s why the roster looks very similar to the one that won 13 total games last season. Naturally, this means the starting lineups on both sides of the ball are largely the same, with a couple potential openings here and there. Tobin noted this when speaking on his outlook of the team.
“I don’t view us as having immediate starter needs, Tobin said. “It will be up to the players and how they compete as to whether they play, how much they play, and whether they become starters this year or next year. We’re pretty flexible to taking guys for the future if that’s what has to happen.”
Cincinnati has had to rely on rookies and young players in general during the last few years; their drafts have reflected that reality. Those players are now growing into leaders on the team, and they can usher in new rookies, who should have less on their plate this season.
This is also the case when the team’s first pick is outside of the top 30 in the draft order. Good players will be available at the 31st pick, but the best may play a position that already has starters in place. Tobin’s comments indicate that won’t prohibit them from making the call.
The position that could most use a new starter is cornerback. Eli Apple is penciled in to start, but he’s expected to receive competition in the form of an early-round pick. Rumors say it’s the position the team is targeting with their first-round pick, but that plan isn’t set in stone by any means.
“We’re not gonna force anything, so it’s gonna have to be the right guy at the right time. But that’s a position where we could use some reinforcements for sure.”
O-line set with flexibility
When the Bengals signed free agent offensive lineman Ted Karras, he was introduced as the team’s new center. Considering Trey Hopkins was released shortly after the announcement, Karras’ position seemed pretty locked in. But Tobin didn’t seem to confirm this was the case, saying it’s up to the coaches where the 29-year old plays to begin his three-year contract.
“Frank and Zac will decide where he goes,” Tobin said about Karras. “But we know he can play center and be a very effective center. We also know he can play left or right guard. It gives us flexibility, but that will be decided by the coaching staff, and we’ll see who’s all in the building at that time.”
For the Tyler Linderbaum hive, this is music to your ears. Linderbaum is the Draft’s top center and is expected to be available at the end of the first round. The only question is would the Bengals pick him over everyone else available?
Linderbaum projects as an ideal fit in the Bengals’ wide zone run scheme, but questions regarding his ability to hold up in pass protection with sub-32” arms cloud his NFL trajectory. When asked about prospects with less than ideal physical measurements, Tobin affirmed how the players play despite those limitations is more important.
“It comes down to whether the guy’s been able to play effectively with whatever trait he doesn’t have. Every inch you can get is a better analysis, but ultimately it comes down to how the guy plays and can he overcome it from where he’s playing now.”
Finding the right safety
As of now, safety is not an immediate need for the Bengals, but Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell playing on soon-to-be expiring contracts adds an uncomfortable layer to the position.
Cincinnati needs to think about the future at the backend of their defense. That could mean just working out an extension for Bates and or Bell, but they could also use help in the present. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo uses three-safety packages a good amount. That third safety has to do a little of everything in terms of coverage and getting downhill. That’s also the kind of safety Tobin and the personnel staff look for.
“Versatility in the safety area is one of the big traits that we look for,” Tobin said. “Because we’re multiple in how we play those guys. And we want multiple traits in them when we bring them in the building. I can’t predict what’s gonna happen in front of us in any round, but yeah, it’s a decent safety draft for sure.”
If the Bengals are serious about adding to the safety room next week, look for the ones who can wear multiple hats.
Always cognizant of special teams
Predicting the late-rounds of the Draft is tough because all 32 teams tend to think differently as the weekend progresses. Every team cares about special teams. The Bengals are far from an exception.
Finding an explosive return specialist is on the docket for the Bengals, but they’re always looking for players who can contribute on kickoff and punt teams. Those are the guys that should be populating the end of your mock drafts.
“We look every year for guys that have redeeming traits on special teams, not just the returners, but guys who cover well on punt team, guys that cover well on kickoff team in college in college. Those are traits that are important for guys who don’t start on your team, so we spend a lot of time trying to uncover whether those guys have those traits when they walk into the building.”