The Bengals prompted us to get an early start on NFL Draft talk after an unfortunate 6-9-1 finish in 2016. A losing season leads many to point to the future shortly after the calendar year changes. With Cincinnati usually remaining quiet in free agency, it seems as if the draft will again be the main route the team will take in the rebuilding effort this spring.
For a team recently lauded for its roster depth, the Bengals have a lot of pressing needs. With all indications pointing toward Marvin Lewis and the bulk of his staff remaining intact for 2017, it will be interesting to see if their long-standing preference of veterans over youngsters bleeds into how they pick this year.
Recently, Over The Cap released a solid prediction of what the compensatory picks in 2017 will look like. In summation, they have the Bengals receiving two fourth round picks for the losses of wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr., as well as two sixth round picks for offensive tackle Andre Smith and safety Reggie Nelson.
Cincinnati highly values those extra picks in their draft-and-develop philosophy. It’s a reason for their inactivity in free agency. The team has needs in a lot of spots and team speed is a must on both units of the ball. Here’s an early guess at what the Bengals might do, given some of the things that might transpire this offseason. Keep in mind, workouts, Pro Days, the Combine and free agency have yet to happen, so this is likely to change in the coming months. For now though, we’ll take a crack at the first four rounds with those projected two extra fourth round picks.
(Editor’s Note: Language used in the below highlight videos may be unsafe for some audiences. Cincy Jungle did not produce these videos.)
Round 1, Pick No. 9: Derek Barnett, Defensive End, Tennessee:
Some scouts will froth at the mouth over Barnett, while others look at him as more of a solid player in a quality college defensive scheme. Regardless, the Bengals need pass-rushing help, even if Barnett’s initial fit with Cincinnati is as a rotational guy. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett should be off the board, so Barnett is the pick. In 2016, Barnett had 13 sacks, 19 tackles-for-loss, five passes defended and two forced fumbles, he broke the Tennessee record for most sacks, formerly held by Reggie White.
One thing you’ll notice about Barnett is his ability to move around the line and get to the passer. While some might feel it’s a Tennessee scheme thing, it also plays into Cincinnati’s lust for rushers lining up at many spots on the line effectively. At 265 pounds, he’ll bring a little bit more speed than the powerful 280-pound duo of Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson. By, the way, can you believe that both ends are sniffing a decade in the NFL? Dunlap is entering his eighth year and Johnson is entering his ninth.
Round 2, Pick No. 41: JuJu Smith Schuster, Wide Receiver, USC:
Smith-Schuster could very well be gone by the time the Bengals are on the clock in Round 2, but a couple of facets might have him land in the Bengals’ lap. First, Smith-Schuster’s pending workouts aside, many teams who needed wide receivers last year got them in the first round. Secondly, star USC receivers have tended to fall in recent drafts (Marqise Lee, Dwayne Jarrett), whether the tumble occurred inside or outside of the first round. There are a small handful of wideouts slated to go ahead of him, too.
After a good statistical season in 2015, Smith-Schuster’s numbers dipped a little this year, as the Trojans made a quarterback change in the middle of the season. It ended up working out well for both USC and Smith-Schuster, as he had 70 catches for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6’2”, 220 pounds, Smith-Schuster can burn defensive backs deep and take short-yardage plays a long way. One thing that stands out on his tape is his balance on the boundary. I personally view him as a slightly more talented version of Jones, which should serve A.J. Green and Andy Dalton well in 2017.
Round 3, Pick No. 73: Raekwon McMillan, Linebacker, Ohio State:
Like Smith-Schuster, some may feel that McMillan will be off the board at this point, but I’ve seen draftniks claim him as a third day pick. Remember, defensive tackle Andrew Billings was mocked to the Bengals in the first round last year and they got him in the fourth. With inside linebackers losing some value and considering the lack of eye-popping speed from his OSU linebacker predecessors, Darron Lee and Ryan Shazier, McMillan would be a solid addition to the Bengals’ linebacker corps early in the third round.
Aside from Vontaze Burfict, who plays the weak side and sometimes shifts to the middle, Cincinnati needs big-time help at the position. Rey Maualuga has a year left on his contract, but his cap hit sits at $3.7 million in 2017, which seems hefty for a guy who is essentially a one-down linebacker right now. Vincent Rey is a valuable member of the group but lacks sizzle, while Karlos Dansby is nearing the end of his career and will be a free agent in March. The Bengals finished 21st against the run this year and McMillan would help the Bengals improve in that area in 2017, given his 102 tackles and two sacks in 2016.
Round 4, Pick No. 113: Montravius Adams, Defensive Tackle, Auburn:
The Bengals have struck gold when drafting defensive tackles in the fourth round under Lewis. Whether it’s Billings (hopefully, we’ve yet to see what he can do), Geno Atkins, Pat Sims or Domata Peko, it’s been one of the big feathers in Lewis’ draft cap. Adams is one of those guys who flashes first round talent, but hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant a high pick. However, at 6’4” and 305 pounds, the combination of his skill set, while surrounding him with the likes of Atkins and Billings could bring sharp teeth to the Bengals’ defense once again.
Adams had 4.5 sacks and 39 tackles this past season, as the Tigers’ defense led Auburn to a somewhat-unlikely Sugar Bowl appearance. The future at this position is cloudy for the Bengals, as Peko is entering free agency, Sims is aging and Billings, Brandon Thompson and Marcus Hardison have a history of injuries.
Round 4, Pick No. 142 (Compensatory): Donnel Pumphrey, Running Back, San Diego State:
Some people love the kid and some are indifferent on him. Regardless, the Aztecs’ shifty runner is probably the least-known player to ever hold the NCAA all-time rushing record. Teams won’t like his 5’9”, 180-pound frame, but the guy just gets it done. Keep in mind that SDSU isn’t a powerhouse team and opposing defenses pretty much solely game-planned to defend Pumphrey each week, yet he still churned out 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.
Cincinnati has some questions to answer at running back this year, as both Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman are set to be free agents and questions surround Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill—be it about health or production. Pumphrey may never become a three-down NFL back, but his shiftiness, speed and athleticism could give Ken Zampese a route for creativity. In high school, Pumphrey was a standout in the 100 and 200 meter sprints in track.
Round 4, Pick No. 143 (Compensatory): Jon Toth, Center/Guard, Kentucky:
Elements of Toth’s game totally play into the Bengals’ wish list, while others don’t. One trait he possesses that both Lewis and offensive line coach Paul Alexander love in their linemen is versatility. Toth projects as an interior linemen of some form, so if the team is looking for a replacement for the underachieving Russell Bodine, or the seemingly-expensive free agent-to-be Kevin Zeitler, Toth can potentially be a fill-in at either spot.
Unfortunately, Toth isn’t known as a brute in the trenches, but rather more of a hold-your-ground player than an attacker. Picking Toth would be both a luxury and a need for Cincinnati.