Zac Taylor is the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. Some of the other 31 head coaches in the NFL have roster control power and make the calls in the NFL Draft.
The only calls Taylor makes are on the phone to the player they picked. And he’s perfectly fine with that.
While Duke Tobin and Bengals’ ownership have trust in Taylor to win football games, that trust is reciprocated from Taylor to Tobin to nail the Draft year in and year out. Being a part of the process is enough for the coach entering his fourth year on the job, and he had some things to say during his fourth pre-draft press conference Monday afternoon.
Pool of options at 31
The odds of the Bengals landing their top prospect this year are slim to none. Slim might actually be impossibly generous. There won’t be a Joe Burrow or Ja’Marr Chase available at the 31st pick, but there could be a Tee Higgins, who was picked 33rd two years ago.
When asked about the number of realistic options the team will consider with their first pick, Taylor said that number will be larger than a handful.
“I’d say it’s probably a bigger range than five [players], to be honest with you,” Taylor said. “But we were in this situation two years ago—Tee Higgins at 33. ... You’re playing the same game you’re playing now at 31, trying to predict and do our own exercises to see who could be there at 33. It’s gonna be a decent range of players I would imagine.”
Landing Higgins at the top of the second round turned out to be a godsend for Cincinnati. You can always count on a few highly-rated prospects lasting longer than the consensus expects. How far they fall involves too many variables to make a general statement about it. Higgins has proven to be as impactful as the first-rounder they had him graded as. They expect to pick a similar talent at 31 as well.
But they may not get the guy this time, so being comfortable with several players at the same spot is never a bad thing.
What goes into trading back
A decent-sized pool of options also bodes well for a trade-back scenario. If there are plenty of equally-ranked options, and you can move back and get one, that should increase the likelihood of a deal materializing.
But there has to be a call first, and they can’t manifest that out of thin air.
Taylor says the available players remaining matters as much as the proposed compensation from moving back from their spot.
“Probably a combination of both,” Taylor said. “Ultimately, we gotta expect a pick whatever number we’re picking at. I think that’s where the experience upstairs really comes into play. The number of drafts Mike Brown, Duke Tobin, everyone’s been involved in, and the experience they have in trading—when, for what value, why—way more so than I bring to the table. So that’s a fun process to be involved in for me to watch them work with the patience and the calmness is similar to what we have to do in games. This is their game. ... I think the experience really pays off in those moments.”
Experience is putting it lightly. Tobin and the Brown family have pulled off second-round trades in four of the last five drafts. The end result has been hit or miss regarding the players they end up with, but the compensation has always looked appealing at the time of the deal.
That’s the risk baked into trading back, you’re asking to limit your options. Having confidence in the pool of options is paramount.
A non-answer that was very much an answer
Age isn’t always talked about regarding draft prospects, but it’s undeniably a factor in terms of who gets picked early or not. Younger players who get drafted high were likely very productive as underclassmen and enter the league at a higher or equal level as older rookies. Their youth theoretically gives them a longer prime and a longer career in general.
Due to COVID-19, several players in this year’s class ended up playing five or even six years in college. You have guys with early-round aspirations turning 24 or even 25 years old during their rookie seasons as a result.
Taylor was asked about the influx of older prospects and if that’s raised the average age in this class. He couldn’t give a clear answer, but... he kinda did?
“I think that’s hard to say,” Taylor said “I couldn’t tell you, all the players you talk about in the top 100, what their ages are. That certainly comes up, but I couldn’t tell you if overall it’s an older group than it was in the past. Where there’s older players shifted? Maybe they came back because they weren’t top picks, and they end up in the sixth or seventh round. I couldn’t tell you that.”
Translation: It hasn’t affected the top of the draft, but there could be more older guys drafted late.
Drafting on the younger side is typically what the Bengals do. Their top three picks from last year were all 21. Their best picks in recent memory (sans Burrow) were 22 or younger at the time of those respective Drafts. Out of Chase, Higgins, Joe Mixon, Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard, Jonah Williams, Evan McPherson, Carl Lawson, and Tyler Boyd, only Hubbard was over 21 when he was drafted.
William Jackson III, Logan Wilson, and Burrow were each 23, so like everything, outliers do exist.
Here is another look at the #NFLDraft history of NFL GMs this time including #RAS data courtesy of @MathBomb pic.twitter.com/PUkRHSOHpP— Felix Zurek (@felixzurek) April 25, 2022
But no, COVID-19 “Super Seniors” probably aren’t going to impact the Bengals or anyone in the first couple rounds.
We know Taylor and the team are going to be targeting defense early in the Draft, it just makes sense. They’ve done plenty of work on cornerbacks and safeties, and there’s an immediate and future need for players at both of those positions.
They’ve also gotten acquainted with defensive tackles, specifically 3-techniques.
When asked about if the future of the receiver market could impact how the draft goes around them, Taylor gave an example that seemed pretty specific.
“Hard to say,” Taylor said. “Because if you need a d-linemen, but you’re thinking about the future receiver marker, and you’re gonna leave a huge hole there at 3-technique, it’s hard to win games. It’s hard to manage it all, that’s Duke’s job to manage all that, I just enjoy being a part of it.”
Despite the re-signing of B.J. Hill, the Bengals do in fact have a hole at 3-tech. They’ve not a soul behind Hill, nor do they have anyone good enough to play a few hundred snaps next to him in their five-man front packages.
This could’ve been an innocent example Taylor gave to answer the question, or it could’ve been based in the knowledge that they’re entering the draft with a need at that spot and they’re planning on addressing it. Adjust your mocks accordingly.