The thing about the Senior Bowl is that it allows us the opportunity to learn about players that will be in the NFL draft. There's the obvious first-round projections that most people know, but most of the players that are eligible for the 2014 NFL draft are unknown to me (with the Bengals, the NFL and my favorite college teams, expanding to other college games is very limited). This process allows us to study and learn about the rest of this year's crop.
Now that the Senior Bowl is over, let's take a look at five players that played in the game that could help the Cincinnati Bengals while applying a realistic approach (is the position a position of need, how does that position look for the future?).
S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: Questions about the team's future at safety could promote the need to address the position... and quickly. Taylor Mays enters the offseason as a free agent, and even if he does return, he could be relegated the linebacker/safety hybrid from last season. Chris Crocker may not even return, contemplating retirement this spring. Ward is a good safety in coverage, plays the deep pass well and athletic enough to cover the slot receiver.
We're not viewing him as a replacement for either Reggie Nelson or George Iloka. However, we're applying this year's draft like the team's approach last season -- finding starter-quality players that will be immediately used in a backup and special team role.
CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska, CB Keith McGill, Utah and CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood: Cincinnati's cornerback position is facing a shakeup soon. Leon Hall is recovering from his second Achilles tear in three seasons. Adam Jones and Terence Newman will turn 31 and 36 respectively and Dre Kirkpatrick is an unknown and very inconsistent. Jean-Baptiste is an intriguing player, whose 6-foot-3 and 220 pound frame can be imposing. He jumped a slant route in the first quarter of the Senior Bowl -- a play that he says "I would normally make".
McGill and Desir are also over six-foot, which is a trend in the NFL to build around big athletic cornerbacks.
Many reports suggest that all three need a bit of development, but with Newman entering the final year of his two-year deal and more being learned about Hall and Kirkpatrick, the Bengals figure to be players in the NFL draft for cornerbacks. All three cornerbacks are projected as late-second round selections but solid in the third. None are first-rounders but it wouldn't be shocking if the Bengals addressed a position more than once within the first four rounds of an NFL draft. They've done it before.
OT Zach Martin, Notre Dame: It's unknown where the Bengals want to go with the left side of their offensive line at this stage. You can be assured that Andre Smith and Kevin Zeitler will start at right tackle and right guard respectively. Andrew Whitwort will start at left tackle or left guard, depending on how free agency and the NFL draft shakes out. Everything else, to me, is unsolved.
Martin's production during Senior Bowl week may have promoted him into first-round projections, who is athletic enough to play tackle but viewed as an outstanding offensive guard prospect. The only reason I don't see Martin selected in the first round, from a Bengals perspective, is because the team may not view him as a tackle. Granted, they selected Zeitler in the first round during the 2012 NFL draft. But they also had two first-round selections that year and they rarely go guard in the first. However, they love, love, LOVE, versatile offensive linemen.
We could see the team, who may be in the market for a first-round offensive tackle, keeping Whitworth at left tackle and solidifying the left side with Martin at left guard. There are a lot of possibilities on Cincinnati will address the left side. This is only one.
LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin: At some point, the Bengals will need to address their future at interior linebacker. Rey Maualuga is entering the final year of a two-year contract and let's not pretend that he's irreplaceable. Save for the locker room camaraderie and helping motivate younger players (don't disregard that either), we're not sure how much more James Harrison will give Cincinnati at this stage of his career (though Borland is viewed as interior, not outside linebacker).
Borland, who may have helped his third-round projections this weekend, is a solid tackler, generating eight stops showing fearless instincts and a forced fumble. Borland has been compared to a poor man's Luke Kuechly.
C Weston Richburg, Colorado State: The Cincinnati Bengals center position, to me, is stale. It needs something new. Kyle Cook has been serviceable, but (rightly or not) is often viewed as the team's weakest link on the offensive line. Unfortunately, there really isn't a great center in this year's NFL draft. Travis Swanson is late first-round, early second-round projection but he's the only one that's projected before the third.
Richburg had a good week in Mobile but he's not viewed as being "overly" strong or quick. However, he can sustain his blocks. I'm not sure if he'd give Cincinnati an upgrade over Cook or Trevor Robinson, but if the Bengals are looking at a center as the team's future replacement, Richburg would be a starting point from this year's class.
What other players that played in the Senior Bowl would you view as players that could fit Cincinnati?