One of the great things about Cincinnati is that free agency won't compromise what we already know about the team's drafting needs heading into the 2014 NFL draft. Alright, you might not think that it's a great thing. More like convenience.
Then again, free agency has affected their perceived needs.
In less than a week, Cincinnati released their starting center and starting strong-side linebacker, while losing their starting defensive end and the world's greatest backup offensive tackle to other teams in free agency. Is cornerback Cincinnati's greatest manufactured need now? Maybe. Maybe not.
SB Nation's Mocking the Draft has Cincinnati selecting Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy in the first round, supplementing the loss of Michael Johnson.
Following the departure of Michael Johnson in free agency, the Bengals could be looking for an upgrade up front. Enter Ealy, arguably the best 4-3 defensive end in the draft after Clowney. Much of Ealy's value comes thanks to his versatility. He can rush from the inside or outside and has the athleticism to stand up occasionally.
Margus Hunt, selected in the second round last year with the anticipation that Johnson would leave this year, didn't make the impact that the team had hoped for. Maybe it's just a matter of continued development. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will spent time with Hunt this spring.
"One of my plans with him is to just maybe spend some individual time with Margus in the spring and get him up to speed with some different things," Guenther said via Bengals.com. "The first year, because he’s still new to the game in general, you know you’re in the NFL and you know the speed of the game and you know you’re against good tackles week in and week out, I think he knows what to expect a little bit better now. Hopefully he’ll make that jump this year. We’re going to need him to."
If Guenther has established himself as anything, it's developing players. Vontaze Burfict credits Guenther for his development during his young two-year career, inviting him to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl last month. Guenther also developed Emmanuel Lamur and seamlessly transitioned Taylor Mays into a hybrid linebacker when Lamur went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
As for Ealy, Rob Rang, who also tabbed the Missouri defensive end to Cincinnati, writes:
STRENGTHS: Ealy's athleticism jumps off the tape. Operating at LDE for the Tigers, Ealy showed good initial quickness off the snap to force right tackles into respecting his speed rush. He also has a quick spin move back to the inside to complement his speed. Perhaps best of all, when he gets a lane, Ealy closes quickly on the ball-carrier.
WEAKNESSES: Ealy is prone to coming off the snap too high, making himself vulnerable to cut blocks. He also spends too much time battling with blockers at the line of scrimmage, needing to improve his hand play to disengage quicker, as well as showing better awareness of where the ball is headed.
Ealy has a build similar to Michael Johnson, standing at 6-foot-5 and nearly 280 pounds.