The NFLPA Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl are in the rearview mirror, but the NFL Combine and Pro Days are all ahead for the 2018 college prospects. In that vein, we decided to throw out a very early Bengals mock draft.
To pat myself on the back a little, I haven’t been totally off-base on some of my early mocks the past two years. In 2016, I had the Bengals taking both William Jackson and Tyler Boyd, just in the second and third rounds, respectively.
And, in 2017, I had JuJu Smith-Schuster going to the Bengals, and though he didn’t land with Cincinnati, he went to their bitter rivals and had a very good rookie season. That isn’t to say I’ll nail anything this year, but feel free to shower me with praise, if you’d like.
Anyway, when looking at the current state of the roster, there are needs in many different areas.
Things we think we know about the Bengals going into the draft:
- The team is committed to Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback—at least for 2018.
- Cincinnati used three of their first five picks on offensive skill position players last year (John Ross, Joe Mixon and Josh Malone). That would likely point to the Bengals getting to the “meat and potatoes” of their roster this year.
- Offensive line, linebacker, tight end and a few other backup positions seem to be atop the team’s needs list.
- Competition should be breeding amongst a number of positions after two straight losing seasons.
- Because of the Bengals’ smaller front office/scouting staff, visits and reported interest in prospects often point to a player landing with the club.
- AJ McCarron is as good as gone and Jeff Driskel might not be available for OTAs, so the Bengals should be in the market for another capable backup quarterback.
- We have no idea if the Bengals plan to keep Tyler Eifert, but they might extend Tyler Kroft long-term.
- Like it or not, the Bengals have made the appearance that they remain at least relatively committed to Russell Bodine, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher next year, though Bodine is an impending free agent.
- The Bengals need to draft players early on who can come in and help them right away.
- It’s incredibly early, as the NFL Combine and Pro Days still have to play out.
Because of these and other reasons, here are who we have them taking with their five picks in the first four rounds. So, take heed of these points before you tell us how dumb these picks appear to be. Here we go:
Round 1, pick No. 12: Roquan Smith, linebacker, Georgia
Since he landed in Cincinnati back in 2003, Marvin Lewis has searched for the next Ray Lewis. Whether it was in grabbing Nate Webster in free agency, drafting Odell Thurman in 2005, or giving the enigmatic Vontaze Burifct a shot, he hasn’t truly found “the guy”.
Last year, whether it was by Lewis’ volition or not, the Bengals passed on Reuben Foster to draft John Ross at No 9. The former made the NFL All-Rookie Team and was a Pro Football Focus favorite, while Ross rotted away on the bench in 2017. Yes, Foster has had off-field issues since entering the league, but he was a much higher-impact player than Ross was last season.
By all indications, the Bengals are once again pushing their chips in the center of the NFL Draft table. It’s why they didn’t want to pay Andrew Whitworth or Kevin Zeitler the big bucks this offseason. For those departures, they received a third and fifth round pick this year.
I’ve said this on multiple platforms, but the Bengals start every season with a handicap that many other NFL teams don’t have. Their front office avoids outside free agency like the plague and relies on younger, unproven, cheaper players to round out their roster.
The solution to this issue? Drafting the safest players in every class and ones who can contribute right away. Smith appears to be one of those guys in this year’s class, and though there is thought that he might not be around at No. 12, his position isn’t truly a premium one.
That doesn’t mean he can’t be an immediate impact player right away for Teryl Austin’s defense, though. Imagine Smith and Vontaze Burfict roaming the field and punishing AFC North ball-carriers.
Smith is a sideline-to-sideline player and could be someone the Bengals rely on for a decade. Did we mention that the Bengals were a woeful 30th against the run last year?
Round 2, pick No. 46: Will Hernandez, offensive guard, UTEP
The small school product’s stock rose quite a bit during the Senior Bowl, as he was absolutely mauling people. He’s well-decorated with the Miners and should be a day one starter for the club that grabs him.
Hernandez is exactly the type of offensive lineman the Bengals need—especially in their division. He’s stout at the point of attack, is a total finisher on his blocks and has a mean streak.
And, as our own John Sheeran recently pointed out, Hernandez fits the team’s mold in offensive linemen—at least in one way. This weekend, Hernandez put up 37 repetitions on the bench press in Indianapolis.
Will Hernandez shuffling and mirroring. pic.twitter.com/G9LVzQZBkD— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) March 2, 2018
The problem? Aside from questions on the talent he played against while at UTEP, he was strictly a left guard in college. The Bengals appear set with Clint Boling at that spot, but have a major vacancy on the right.
So, if Hernandez does fall in their lap when the early part of the second round rolls on, Cincinnati will need to be confident he can switch to the right side and still be just as effective. Regardless, the Bengals need major help up front and Hernandez is one of the best guards in this year’s class.
Round 3, pick No. 77: Jamarco Jones, offensive tackle, Ohio State
Jones isn’t going to be known as a dominant tackle, but he is above-average in all aspects. He had a couple of issues last season with the Buckeyes, but overall, he should become a solid pro for a team.
He checked into the Combine with nice size at 6’4” and 310 pounds, as well as an 85 1/8” wingspan. Jones manned the left tackle position and started 27 consecutive games there for Ohio State. He also grabbed All-Conference nods twice and could help the Bengals out at either tackle spot.
He had a decent showing at the Combine this past weekend. He didn’t wow anyone with overall athleticism, but his skills should pave the way for him to have a steady NFL career—something the Bengals desperately need on their offensive line.
Jamarco Jones kick slide drill pic.twitter.com/7R5lmw33VP— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) March 2, 2018
Again, barring something unforeseen from Fisher’s comeback from an irregular heartbeat, the Bengals are probably going to give both he and Ogbuehi a shot to revive their NFL careers in 2018. And, knowing their stick-to-their guns stubbornness, they will also likely point to the recent addition of Bobby Hart as a reason they wait to take a tackle.
Still, the two 2015 draft picks need to be pushed and not by some has-been or never-were free agent (no direct offense to Hart). Cincinnati could very well address offensive line in the first round, depending on who is there, but they still seem pretty set in their ways with the aforementioned guys who have struggled in their respective NFL careers.
Round 3, pick No. 100 (Compensatory pick): Luke Falk, quarterback, Washington State
Cincinnati was so obsessed with keeping a capable backup to Andy Dalton, that it ultimately cost them both lucrative trade offers and likely the player himself (AJ McCarron) earlier than they had anticipated. They seem to like Driskel’s athleticism, but he’s still a project at this point.
Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting recently put together an interesting list of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. It’s an especially fun read if you are a fan of “The Office” sitcom, as he places characters from that show to the signal-callers entering the league this year.
He has Falk as “Toby Flenderson”, the embattled H.R. rep of the program. Galko, like many others around the league, use terms like “reliable”, “even-keel” and “respect”.
But, I digress.
Falk finisihed his WSU career with 14,481 passing yards, a 68.3 completion percentage, 119 touchdowns and just 39 interceptions—good for a 148.2 career rating. He was instrumental in getting the Cougars back to any kind of national prominence, racking up 26 wins in three seasons as a full-time starter.
Like Dalton, Falk can move a bit, but he’s bigger at 6’4”. His throwing motion can look a little shot-put-like at times, but he was a productive guy and could help the Bengals if Dalton were to miss time.
Round 4, pick No. 112: Tim Settle, Defensive Tackle, Virginia Tech
As I mentioned above, the Bengals were uncharacteristically poor at stopping the run last year. Cincinnati drafted Andrew Billings in the fourth round back in 2016 and he had his first pro snaps last year, after missing his rookie campaign.
Billings flashed from time to time, but he and other need to step up bigger this year against the run. Pat Sims is a free agent and is entering his 11th season, while big Josh Tupou was arrested earlier this offseason.
Along with Billings, the Bengals need beef and space-eaters next to Geno Atkins. At 6’3” and 328 pounds, Settle definitely brings girth and some nice tape. Some believe he might go higher than this, but as we saw with Billings, tackles who aren’t deemed “three-down players” can free-fall.
The Bengals have used a lot of fourth round picks on defensive tackles under Marvin Lewis. Atkins, Domata Peko, Billings and, most recently, Ryan Glasgow highlight the list and if Settle can be had here, the Bengals should pounce on another talented big man.