It’s officially the offseason, which means it’s now time for all the player movement to go down with cuts, trades, and blockbuster deals.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ biggest move will be their extension that will come with quarterback Joe Burrow at some point, which may be a little disappointing following a few offseasons where they have been uncharacteristically active at bringing in outside free agents.
That means there will likely be an even bigger emphasis on the draft for Bengals fans. Chad Reuter from NFL.com gave us his first mock draft of the year, and it is a three-rounder. While obviously early in the pre-draft process, these projections can give us a look into how some national draft analysts view Cincinnati’s needs going into the NFL Draft, and who they could possibly walk away with.
Reuter started off by giving the Bengals what is quickly becoming a fan-favorite player:
Cody Mauch, Offensive lineman North Dakota
Mauch showed during Senior Bowl week that he could play anywhere along the offensive line. That sort of versatility would have come in handy for the Bengals during the playoffs after they lost both starting tackles (including Jonah Williams, a free agent after the 2023 season) to injury. Putting Mauch and his former Bison teammate, Cordell Volson, on the same NFL O-line does NDSU proud.
Mauch went viral for a minute on Bengals Twitter when his team picture with him missing teeth was shared as him being a former teammate of Volson. It shows off that glass-eating mentality that offensive line coach Frank Pollack looks for.
At this point though, this feels like them adding a depth piece with their first pick. Cincinnati really needs a long-term solution at offensive tackle. Williams is set to be a free agent following 2023 and La’el Collins is 30 years old and could be set to be a cap casualty either this offseason or next.
Mauch looks like he is becoming more like an inside offensive lineman at the next level, despite playing left tackle in college. He took plenty of snaps at guard and even center at the Senior Bowl. Having depth on the inside is great and something this team needs, but the next two offensive linemen off the board were Dawand Jones (a giant at 6-foot-8 and 375 pounds), an offensive tackle from Ohio State, and Darnell Wright out of Tennessee.
The Bengals’ second and third-round selections focused on a secondary that could be losing a ton of players via free agency. Deonte Banks — cornerback out of Maryland — and Daniel Scott — safety out of California — were added to fill the possible voids left behind.
Banks is a very high-ceiling prospect that has all the measurables you want from a corner in today’s NFL. He needs to tidy up some technique stuff, but overall, he has all the tools to fit right into what Cincinnati wants out of a boundary corner.
Scott is a bit of a questionable pick. He will be 25 years old as a rookie. The positive is he seems like he has the size and speed in coverage, but he can’t tackle. Some may view him as a possible tight end coverer, but putting him up near the line of scrimmage in the NFL just doesn’t seem like something he will be able to handle well as he lacks the physicality to help in the running game, and considering the tight ends he’d be asked to cover also happen to be pretty solid run blockers, he becomes an instant liability.
Unless a team is banking on being able to fix his tackling and physicality issues, there are just better options. Ohio State’s Zach Harrison went just a few picks later, and adding to that stable of pass rushers sounds like a way better idea at that point.
At this point, many expect safety Jessie Bates to be gone in free agency after he and the team failed to come to terms on a long-term contract this offseason, but other players like Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, and Tre Flowers are set to hit free agency this offseason.
Meanwhile, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton are scheduled to be free agents next offseason as well. This secondary was structured to be around during Burrow’s rookie contract, well that time is coming to an end. So being preemptive with picks like Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt last year along with Banks and Scott this year could go a long way in keeping this defense near the same level that they have been.
Overall, this mock leaves room for improvement from the Bengals’ standpoint, but at least they walked away with mostly high-ceiling players.