The big weekend that is the NFL Draft is in the books and the Cincinnati Bengals made some noise. They didn’t wheel-and-deal or maneuver like we thought they would, but they largely made sound, necessary picks.
With these additions comes impacts to coaches and players alike. Here are the biggest winners and losers from the fallout of the draft.
Bobby Hart: Most folks were critical of the contract he signed with the Bengals last year and Hart didn’t start proving people wrong until the final month of the year. With University of Houston tackle Josh Jones available at both No. 33 and No. 65 overall, it would have been an opportunity to at least provide a high-level of competition for the right tackle spot. Instead, Cincinnati waited until Round 6 to address the offensive line in the form of a guard/tackle project.
But, as they’ve told us throughout the offseason, they like the state of the offensive line much more than those of us looking into the window from the outside. They might have Fred Johnson compete with Hart this offseason, but for now, he appears to be the front-runner for the spot on the right once again.
Xavier Su’a-Filo: The team didn’t draft a true interior lineman, and the only one they snagged (Hakeem Adeniji) is a former left tackle they’re looking to mold into a versatile swing tackle/guard. That project could prove to take a year or more for it to bear fruit, even if Adeniji’s talent brings long-term optimism.
The Bengals like Michael Jordan as a guard and Johnson could be in the mix here, too. But, Su’a-Filo fits their scheme well, so he may have the inside track at one of the starting spots, due to the lack of offensive line picks.
Bob Bicknell: The team’s wide receivers coach has a lot to work with in 2020. That’s music to his ears, given the massive amount of injuries that hit the position last year.
Bicknell and Joe Burrow will have Higgins, A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate and John Ross as his top options, with other contributors like Alex Erickson, Damion Willis and others grinding for spots. Cincinnati has arguably the most talented wide receiver group in the NFL, if health isn’t an issue.
Joe Burrow: Sure, the Bengals didn’t invest heavily in offensive line, but Burrow’s coming to a situation with a pretty stocked cupboard. Cincinnati does get the proverbial “extra draft pick” up front with offensive tackle Jonah Williams returning after missing his entire rookie year, while the Bengals’ offense also added Higgins as a weapon in Round 2.
Burrow has two capable backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield, while also having a receiver corps comprised of the talented names listed above. Oh, and making him the No. 1 overall pick in the draft wasn’t a bad start to the weekend for the Heisman Trophy winner, either.
The triumvirate of Lou Anarumo, Mark Duffner and Al Golden: The Bengals have not done a good job of adding quality talent at linebacker. Whether it has been with too many third-round projects (Dontay Moch, P.J. Dawson, Malik Jefferson and more), or getting veterans who were both at the end of their careers and/or poor scheme fits (James Harrison and Kevin Minter), it’s been a virtual wasteland.
With only seven picks on the weekend, Cincinnati used nearly half of them at the position. All three bring a differing skill set, with Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey providing particularly high upside. This is after the addition of veteran Josh Bynes and the team will be counting on the continued development of Germaine Pratt.
Duffner’s NFL lineage is largely as a linebackers coach and is a defensive assistant with the Bengals, while Golden is coming into a pretty solid position as the newbie. Anarumo, on the other hand, must’ve pounded the table loudly for help this offseason, as his unit has been completely made over in the past couple of months.
C.J. Uzomah: While tight ends are not heavily-featured in the Zac Taylor offense, Uzomah should be primed for an increase in production for 2020. Tyler Eifert left in free agency and the position wasn’t addressed in the team’s seven picks, so Uzomah becomes the primary big-man target for Burrow.
Brian Callahan: Any time you’re an offensive coordinator and you get a franchise quarterback and consensus first-round talent at wide receiver with back-to-back picks, you’re excited. And, while the pressure should be on the Bengals’ coaches to see marked improvement this year, the leash may be a little longer for Callahan, as Zac Taylor still assumes play-calling duties.
Zac Taylor: With the conclusion of the draft, Taylor officially continued to put his stamp on the roster. He and his crew came late to the party last offseason, thus being rushed through the free agency and scouting processes.
Now, he gets “his quarterback”, an improved defense and a fresh start, so to speak. Looking back at what Taylor had to endure before the season started, in terms of injuries, bad luck and the like, he has to feel pretty good about the direction of his team right now.
The 2020 Bengals and their fans: Not only did the team usher in a new era with Burrow’s entrance, but they received high marks for their weekend draft haul. It’s been one of the most exciting offseasons for Cincinnati football in a long, long time.
Jim Turner: The team didn’t address offensive line until the sixth round of the draft and only added veteran journeyman Su’a-Filo in free agency to bolster the line. As mentioned above, the team apparently likes the collection of players they have set to engage in some heated battles—particularly at the guard positions.
It would appear that Taylor has supreme confidence in Turner’s ability to develop linemen who have had all kinds of different pathways to the NFL. The line was mostly a disaster last year, largely due to a smattering of injuries. The team failed to make heavy investments in the line to this point though, so Turner’s supposed lineman-whispering skills better be on point to protect the massive franchise asset that is Burrow.
Damion Willis: It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for the 2019 undrafted free agent. He started with that designation, became a preseason star and eventual opening day starter with Green out injured.
The year ended with Willis seeing very limited snaps and he now has to compete for a spot with Higgins and the gigantic undrafted rookie, Scotty Washington. Willis will need another outstanding camp to stick with the Bengals again in 2020.
Alex Erickson: It may be an even higher uphill climb for Erickson than that of Willis. As we’ve said a few times, the Bengals had two guys sniff the Pro Bowl as returners last year in Brandon Wilson and Darius Phillips. That alone could push Erickson out of the picture in what has been his primary role since he was a preseason star himself a few years back, if not the additions of Higgins and Washington.
Also clouding things is the fact that he was holdover from the previous regime. Late last year and into this offseason, Taylor and Co. have not been shy in shedding veterans to re-shape the roster in their image.
Andy Dalton: The obvious situation of being pushed out of a job by Burrow aside, it would seem that teams didn’t come calling (or offer much) for his services over draft weekend. He and his $17-plus salary currently remain on the Bengals’ books.
To piggyback on the previous point, the Bengals have publicly said they’d do right by Dalton and send him to a situation in which he is comfortable, but it’s becoming a “beggars being choosy” situation. While the Bengals may let this sit for a little bit to see what offers, if any, come their way, Dalton not getting to a new situation also could put him behind the eight-ball for the starting opportunity he’s seeking.
Any linebacker not named Josh Bynes or Germaine Pratt: With four new high-profile additions to the position group in the draft and free agency, it may be a bunch of new faces we see on the opening day roster. Cincinnati likely saw the need to corral Lamar Jackson and Co. twice a year, as well as the need to be able to diversify its looks on defense and the new guys give them that ability.