The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their 2023 NFL Draft by hauling in eight players, acquiring one extra pick after trading back in the third round. They did a nice job of balancing drafting for need and drafting the best player available. There were positions that analysts predicted they’d prioritize in the draft, but things didn’t go the way most expected. They never do.
After a couple of nights to sleep on it, here are my thoughts on the draft and some grades.
Myles Murphy, edge, Clemson Tigers
I’ll admit, when the pick came in, I was shocked. I figured with Michael Mayer and Joey Porter Jr., I thought it was a foregone conclusion one of those guys would be selected by the team with the No. 28 selection. We’ve spent all offseason talking about the need at tight end and cornerback.
The pick was a home run, though. Trey Hendrickson will be a free agent after the 2024 season. The Bengals are about to make Joe Burrow the highest-paid player in NFL history. Do you think they’ll have to money to extend Hendrickson? I don’t. Do you think they’ll have to money to sign a big-name pass rusher in free agency? Probably not.
Murphy wasn’t expected to be available late in the first round. The Bengals decided not to reach and draft for need. They took the best player available, and in the situation the team is in right now, which is “win now” mode, drafting BPA is the smart thing to do.
DJ Turner, CB, Michigan Wolverines
Here’s where need meets value. The Bengals didn’t get Joey Porter Jr., but they didn’t have to wait too long to grab their future at cornerback. Turner is an excellent athlete with blazing speed and will act as an insurance policy if Chidobe Awuzie isn’t ready to go by Week 1.
But if you think beyond this year, Turner is likely to be the team’s starting outside corner opposite Cam Taylor-Britt in 2024. Awuzie will be a free agent. We can go through the same set of questions we went through above. The team likely won’t be able to keep Awuzie. They needed a future replacement, and now they have one. I’d rather they have one that was on the roster for a year before they start than pigeonhole themselves into drafting a corner with their first-round pick next year.
Hill also played with Turner at Michigan, so they’re used to communicating with each other. That’s a big bonus.
Jordan Battle, S, Alabama Crimson Tide
This was another shocking pick. Did you think the team was all set with Dax Hill and Nick Scott? Well, think again! Battle isn’t as athletic as Turner or Hill, but he makes up for it with experience. He has spent four years in a Nick Saban defense and started three of those years and even in a few games as a freshman.
I remember when I was in driver’s ed (just bare with me) I remember the instruction said young drivers have a lack of driving experience, but they make up for it with a quick reaction time. As they get older, even as they lose that reaction time, they’re better drivers just from experience. They’re able to anticipate what will happen. That’s what I think of when I think about Battle.
The Bengals may not be completely sold on the combo of Hill and Scott. Maybe they think Hill could be an eventual Hilton replacement. Either way, I’m happy Battle is on the team. I don’t like trading with arguably the team’s biggest rival in the conference, and I didn’t like the Steelers landing Darnell Washington, but I do like the pick.
Charlie Jones, WR Purdue Boilermakers
This may have been the pick that threw me for a loop the most, but not really in a bad way. Since Josh Whyle, Will Mallory, and others were available, I kinda thought this was where the Bengals would go tight end. Obviously, they didn’t.
Instead, they selected the likely heir apparent to Tyler Boyd. There are others on the roster who will compete for the spot, but Jones could be the favorite already. Jones is built for the slot in the NFL. He isn’t going to take the top off the defense, but he excels at working and getting open in space. He finished the 2022 season with 110 receptions for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He’ll contribute mostly on special teams this year, but he could be a big contributor next season.
Chase Brown, RB, Illinois Fighting Illini
Again, this is where need meets value. I really liked Brown coming into this year’s draft. He had a little bit of a fumbling issue in 2022, but he averaged 27 Carries per game. He had over 100 yards rushing in nine consecutive games, and while he was inconsistent as a pass blocker, he had a few games where he did well (three were really bad, though).
He’s not going to replace Mixon, but he wasn’t drafted to. He was drafted to replace Samaje Perine. If he can be coached to the point where he’s a pretty good pass blocker, the Bengals will have gotten a good backup running back who has the potential to land a larger role. Considering which running backs were still available at this point, this was a decent pick.
Round 6 (206)
Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton Tigers
This is where the Bengals took a gamble. They found a potential Boyd replacement, so there wasn’t much of a need at WR, but Iosivas has intriguing upside. He’s a heptathlete, whatever that means, and has track star speed to go with his 6-3, 205-pound frame.
The Bengals will extend Joe Burrow. It’s just a matter of time. There’s hope that there will be enough left in the coffers to extend Higgins too, but we can’t be sure. If this is Higgins’ last season in Cincinnati, Iosivas has the potential to be a good outside receiver. He can at least compete to be the team’s 6th wideout this year and contribute on special teams. There were other guys that I would have liked here, though.
Still, there’s a lot of upside with this pick, and while it’s a gamble, I’m okay with gambling on the No. 206 pick.
Round 6 (217)
Brad Robbins, punter, Michigan Wolverines
This was the extra pick they got from Kansas City, and they used it to fill another need. The Bengals moved on from Kevin Huber after their long-time punter started to struggle. Dru Chrisman took over, but it was clear he wasn’t going to be a long-term answer at the position.
Robbins had the longest hang time of any punter in this year’s draft class. Hopefully, the Bengals don’t have to punt often this year, but a good punter who is able to pin opposing offenses deep in their own territory is an invaluable piece of any team.
DJ Ivey, Cornerback, Miami Hurricanes
The Bengals went back to defense with their last pick and added some more depth to their secondary. It’s clear they liked Ivey as well because they visited with him before the draft.
If Ivey makes the team, he’ll be at the back end of the depth chart and will mostly be on the field for special teams. However, he has a lot of experience, and he has some upside. I liked the idea of grabbing Brayden Willis, Moro Ojomo, or Ronnie Bell here.
What did we learn?
First, we learned the Bengals are balancing “win now” with trying to plan for the next few seasons. They understand their Super Bowl window is open, but they’re trying to keep it open for a long time.
It also tells us they value cornerback and safety more than linebacker, and they value defensive end more than defensive tackle. The major lesson in value, though, is how much they value wide receiver more than tight end. The Bengals are obviously fine with Irv Smith Jr. as their starting tight end in 2023, and it’s clear they’re okay with Drew Sample and Devin Asiasi as the backups.
Running back might be a different story, though. Jahmyr Gibbs was linked to the Bengals in the first round, but he went to the Lions at No. 12. Then Zach Charbonnet was linked to them in the second, but he was selected early. Then there was a run on running backs in the third round. They got Brown, but there are still options at running back in free agency.
It’s likely Mixon will be the starting running back in Week 1, but I couldn’t give you my 100 percent Garrisontee (see what I did there?).
Overall, I thought the Bengals did a great job at sitting back and not reaching for needs. Instead, they let the draft come to them. They filled their major needs in free agency, the drafted players are icing on the cake, at least this year.
Overall grade: B+
What grade do you give them?