Winter is coming, but that can be a good thing, especially if your team has a good spring.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, half of the battle is already won. The Bengals had one of their best off-season free-agent hauls yet, landing a franchise left tackle along with potential starters on both sides of the ball.
Next up is the 2023 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to begin Thursday, April 27 at 8 p.m. The Bengals are already one of the favorites to make another appearance in the Super Bowl, and a good showing in the draft will only enhance those odds.
Prognosticators have Cincinnati going in lots of different directions with their first pick, which isn’t until No. 28 thanks to a second straight appearance in the AFC Championship game.
It’s time to get out my own crystal ball and make one final stab at who the Bengals might select and where.
Pick No. 28. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Banks’ draft status shot way up after acing the NFL Combine with a 4.35 40, a 42-inch vertical jump, and a 136-inch broad jump. The former Terrapin has ideal size for the position at 6-2 and 205 pounds and has proven himself to be an asset in the running game. As a senior, Banks started all 12 games and finished with 29 tackles, six assists, nine pass breakups, and an interception. He had a quarterback rating when targeted of 71.4.
Pick No. 60. Cody Mauch, G, North Dakota State
This one might come as somewhat of a surprise, but, after the success that Cincinnati had with another North Dakota State product in Cordell Volson, why not? Mauch is a former tight end who bulked up to become one of the best left tackles in the country and is one of those glass eaters that offensive line coach Frank Pollack covets. As a senior, Mauch allowed exactly one quarterback hit and one sack.
No. 92. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
There are lots of good tight ends in this draft, but this one has that little extra the Bengals seek. Musgrave is the nephew of former Oregon and NFL quarterback Bill Musgrave, and his father, Doug, played quarterback for two years at Oregon. As a junior, Musgrave started nine games and finished with 22 receptions for 304 yards (13.8 per) and a score. He also blocked a punt and returned it 27 yards against Utah. As a senior, Musgrave had 11 catches for 169 yards (15.4 per) and a score through his first two games before being lost to a knee injury. Many have Musgrave projected higher than this, but that injury could lead to him slipping late into Day 3 for a team like the Bengals to pounce.
No. 131. Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
If Charbonnet is still on the board here, this one is a no-brainer. Charbonnet ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons with the Bruins and scored 27 touchdowns over that span. As a senior, he amassed 1,359 yards on the grounds with an average of seven yards per carry and had 14 scores. He also averaged 4.4 yards after contact, the second-best mark in the NCAA last season. His 4.53 showing in the 40 at the NFL Combine, however, may be enough to keep him on the board this far.
No. 165. Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia
At 6-3 1/2 and 286 pounds, Stills is more in the mold of an Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins than a D.J. Reader. But his production at West Virginia speaks for itself. In 2021, Stills was named first-team All-Big 12 after leading the Mountaineers with 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks, 36 tackles, and an interception. He repeated that feat last year with nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, 26 tackles, and 4.5 sacks. Stills’ father, Gary, was a third-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999 and spent 10 years in the NFL.
No. 206. Ronnie Hickman, S, Ohio State
Hickman was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes and is probably best suited as a nickel back for the Bengals. He can be a good run defender but frequently finds himself out of position. At 6-1 and 207 pounds, Hickman has NFL size but needs to work on his consistency.
No. 248. Jon Gaines, II, IOL, UCLA
Gaines certainly has the potential to find a place on the roster as a career backup, which is about what you would expect from a seventh-round pick. He is highly intelligent and has a clear understanding of his duties on every snap. He has the mental makeup coaches look for, but needs to work on his technique and his core strength.