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Bengals’ 2023 draft class shaping up to be something special

The jury’s still out, but things are looking up for the most recent Bengals draft class.

Syndication: The Enquirer Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

It usually takes a few years to get a really good objective look at a draft class. You typically can’t judge a group of players until they’ve been in the league for a couple of years and either developed or washed out of the league. This is especially true for late-round picks, who usually have a hard time getting on the field for meaningful snaps that help them develop.

This has not been the case for the Cincinnati Bengals 2023 NFL Draft class.

While not everyone contributed right away, all of the Bengals’ eight draft picks have made positive impacts on the team. Let’s break it down by pick.

DE, Myles Murphy, Round 1 (28)

When tight end Michael Mayer and cornerback Joey Porter Jr. were available when the Bengals went on the clock, I was taken aback when Roger Goodell read the name Myles Murphy. He was higher on my board than No. 28, but I wasn’t expecting the Bengals to take a defensive end when they had Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard under contract, and there seemed to be bigger needs. It was especially frustrating when Murphy couldn’t seem to get on the field.

That changed starting in Week 10 when he started getting more playing time, doubling his snap counts from earlier in the season. Now, according to PFF, Murphy has the second-highest pass rush win percentage on the team, behind only Trey Hendrickson. Technically, he’s third, but ADG’s higher score comes on only a handful of pass-rushing snaps.

Hendrickson leads the way with a crazy 20.7 percent win rate, and Murphy is at 13.3 percent, and this is as a raw pass rusher, relying mostly on his power, speed, and strength to get home. That won’t work all the time in the NFL because he’s going up against the best pass protectors in the world.

But when he perfects his craft, watch out.

CB, DJ Turner, Round 2 (60)

When the Bengals selected Cam Taylor-Britt in the 2021 draft, he wasn’t meant to take a starting role, but an injury to Chidobe Awuzie forced the Bengals to throw CTB into the fire, and he’s better for it today. The same thing happened to Turner, and he’ll be better for it.

Turner has rare top-end speed and athleticism for a cornerback, and while he’s made mistakes, he’s also shown amazing flashes of what he can do, both in coverage and as a run defender.

It’s a safe assumption that Awuzie is likely playing his last season with the Bengals. CTB and Turner are the future of the position, and while the labor is cheap, they’d be better off not paying for it.

S, Jordan Battle, Round 3 (95)

The Bengals let Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell walk in free agency and handed the reigns over to Dax Hill and free agent Nick Scott. Hill, while inexperienced, is a rare athlete and has played well as Lou Anarumo’s Swiss Army knife, but Scott struggled and was replaced by Battle.

The Bengals' secondary is about as young as it can get. Apart from Mike Hilton (who’s only 29 but might as well be 50 compared to the rest of the guys), there are two rookies and two second-year players, one of whom just got his first starting snaps this year. The Bengals' pass defense, with such young players in the secondary, has been hit or miss at times, and the defense has given up some chunk plays. However, Battle, like Turner, has shown some amazing flashes, both in run support and in coverage.

When he and Turner have the experience needed to not make rookie mistakes anymore, the Bengals secondary is going to be great.

WR, Charlie Jones, Round 4 (131)

The Bengals have the best wide receiver room in the NFL. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are true No. 1 receivers, and when both are on the field, the opposing defenses are forced to pick their poison. Then you add Tyler Boyd, who would make an excellent No. 2 receiver on 95 percent of the teams in the NFL, as the league’s best slot receiver.

Considering this, it’s not a huge surprise that Jones hasn’t been able to sniff the field, at least on offense, as a rookie, and ending up on IR for a while didn’t help. However, he’ll get a big shot next year as the Bengals are expected to be forced to move on from Boyd and possibly Higgins as well.

Jones showed what he can do as a punt returner against the Ravens, and we may see some more of him in the last four games of the season, but I expect to see what Jones can do as a slot receiver in 2024.

RB, Chase Brown, Round 5 (163)

For one reason or another, the Bengals came into the season with a less-than-healthy Joe Burrow and decided to just not run the ball. In fact, it took Burrow going on season-ending IR with a wrist injury and backup quarterback Jake Browning to take over for the Bengals to commit to some sort of running game, and because of that, we’re just now seeing Brown on the field.

The Bengals have recommitted themselves to the running game in order to help Downtown Jake Brown out, and that means they’re getting Brown more involved. It’s about time. Against the Colts, Brown took a screen pass to the house and hit 22.05 miles per hour on the way. That’s the second fastest a ball carrier has run, only behind Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf.

Yes, he was faster than Tyreek Hill.

So much for his 40 time, right?

WR, Andrei Iosivas, Round 6 (206)

If you’re going to take a chance on a freak athlete out of an Ivy League school, the sixth round is the place to do it. The Bengals took Iosivas with their first of two sixth-round picks, and while other sixth-round picks were cut, landed on practice squads, or found themselves trying out for an XFL team, Iosivas has scored touchdowns.

The elite athlete with track star speed has not only been able to produce as a receiver, but he’s contributing on special teams as well. It’s still way too early to say that Iosivas could take over for Higgins on the outside if the Bengals and the pending free agent receiver are unable to come to a deal, but the potential is there. That’s a lot more than we can say for most other sixth-round picks.

P, Brad Robbins, Round 6 (217)

Here’s the only real trouble of the draft class. The Bengals selected Robbins because of his hang time. They didn’t need a punter with a nuclear foot because they had Burrow and an explosive offense that wasn’t going to be in trouble a lot. Or at least, that was the thought. Robbins has struggled. PFF has him ranked as the 35th-best punter in the NFL, and that’s pretty bad, considering there are only 32 teams.

However, this team isn’t what they were meant to be. They’ve punted out of their own end zone more often than I think they believed they would. The jury’s still out on Robbins, but I do believe he can come around.

CB, DJ Ivey, Round 7 (246)

The last pick of the draft was Ivey, who was shoved into an already crowded cornerback room. The Bengals not only selected Turner, but they signed Sidney Jones in free agency as well. It seemed that Ivey would likely be cut and maybe make the practice squad.

That was before training camp, though. Ivey showed up and showed out, covering two of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and made some special plays. He made the final 53, pushing the veteran Jones to the practice squad, and contributed mostly as a special teamer until he got some playing time against the Colts.

In that game, he recovered a fumble, forced a fumble, and broke up a pass. It doesn’t mean he’s going to be starting soon, but I do think it means that he’s a capable depth player who also contributes on special teams, and if you grab a guy like that in the seventh round, brother, you’ve struck gold.

I’m not going to bother grading this draft class, because, again, we’ve only seen flashes from some of these guys. We’re not going to place a real objective grade for another couple of seasons. However, of the last few draft classes, including the one that gave us Burrow, Higgins, and Logan Wilson, this one has the potential to be one of the best.