The Bengals had been a yearly Play-Off contender for almost a decade, but have fallen back the past few seasons. It looked like Marvin Lewis was going to get the axe this off-season, but after multiple meetings with Owner/GM/Grand Poobah MIKE BROWN, he decided to keep Marvin, likely at a salary reduction. The team let a few vets walk away like HILL, McCARREN, BODINE and PACMAN, and should have themselves at, or near, the bottom of the League when payrolls are counted next Fall. So what did the team do with their 11 Picks? It’s an important question because any significant improvement for the team will have to come from their Rookie class, per usual.
In the tradition of his dad, Paul Brown, who started his expansion franchise off by selecting OC/BOB JOHNSON as the franchises first selection way back when, Mike Brown submitted the name of BILLY PRICE/OC/Ohio State as the team’s first selection at Pick 21. It is not a terrible Pick as some would contend. PRICE has decent size and solid athleticism. He started 55 consecutive games over four years for the Buckeyes. He was highly thought of but had the misfortune to tear a pectoral muscle during the Bench Press portion of the Combine. With the team having let RUSS BODINE leave in VFA it is likely that a healthy PRICE will grab that starting job at OC, and keep it for many years to come.
They double-dipped into the talented Buckeyes prospect pool by selecting DE/OB SAM HUBBARD in Round 3, with Pick 77. Ohio State is naturally Ohio’s favorite football team and I would suggest that grabbing 2 Buckeyes in the Top 100 is a solid move from a talent and public relations standpoint for the Bengals. HUBBARD is a natural football player and finds his way into opponent backfields with regularity. Sharing time in a very deep DL group at Ohio State, HUBBARD had only 42 total tackles last season, but 13.5 of those were TFL, including 7 sacks. He may have the athleticism to spend time as an OLB, and that will be pretty intimidating with his 6’5″, 270 lb. frame. Expect him to have an immediate impact out on the grass come September, even if he’s not starting.
It has been my opinion for years now that the Bengals have a bunch of “guys” playing S for them. Some like IOLKA are big hitters, but they sacrifice coverage to accommodate that physicality. Therefore you can bet that I was seriously impressed when they took S/JESSIE BATES/Wake Forest in Round 2, at Pick 54. He’s a potential starter with good ball skills, and athleticism. His 4.51/40 and 35.5″ Vert are indicators of that athleticism. He may play limited snaps as a Rookie, but I see a potential starter here at FS and a serious talent upgrade overall for their secondary group.
I was also excited to see the team select MALIK JEFFERSON/LB/Texas at Pick 78. This young man has been a starter since his true frosh season for the Longhorns and whenever I watched him play he was all over the field, making plays. In 2017 he recorded 110 tackles for the Longhorns, even though he played around minor ailments much of the 2017 season. He may have to try to convert to an OLB spot, but his talent and athleticism are superior to most of the current LB corps in Cincinnati. At the Combine I was pleasantly surprised at his 27 reps in the Bench Press. His 4.56-40 time is also hard to look past. Their final Pick in the Top 100, JEFFERSON is he cherry on top of the Sunday of young, exciting athletes added to the Bengals roster.
MARK WALTON/RB/Miami is not in any way going to replace or replicate JEREMY HILL in their RB group, but he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and tough to coral and tackle after the catch. His style of play is much like that of Giovani Bernard, his new teammate. He may not get a lot of touches initially, but someone in that RB group will get hurt and he will get his shot. His style and size remind me a bit of Duke Johnson, another former Hurricane, who has been a very serviceable receiving/running threat for the Browns.
It was clear as the Draft progressed that the Bengals are ready to restaff their DB group, with the selection of two more DB, both of whom played CB in their college careers. In Round 5, Pick 151 they took small school DB DEVONTAE HARRIS from Illinois State, who made a solid impression with his work at the Shrine venue. He has nice size (6’0/200) and above average athleticism. He is inconsistent in his tackling but can deliver a blow. He also showed well with his ball tracking. Seems capable of handling both zone and press coverage. He may get a shot at a S spot as well.
They also grabbed a pure CB, with some serious return skills, in DARIUS PHILLIPS/Western Michigan at Pick 170. PHILLIPS is a bit small (5’10/190) but should fit nicely into multiple sub-packages for the Bengals. He’s more quick than fast, as evidenced by his jitter bug moves as a Punt returner. After letting Pacman Jones depart the team is a bit thin at CB in today’s pass happy NFL. These two guys have a chance to make the team, and along with BATES flip the DB personnel group.
Their 5th Rounder at Pick 158 was one of favorite players after observing him at the Senior Bowl venue; ANDREW BROWN/DL/Virginia. He played with great energy and burst in Mobile and excelled in both the game and practices. His biggest shortcoming seems to be an inability to use his long arms and big hands (9 3/8″/34 1/2″) to get off of blockers quickly enough to make more tackles. Right now he flashes, getting by on quickness and gap penetration. He can and will chase down plays, with effort and decent speed (5.08/40). He also stays low and minimizes the blocking area on his frame. IMO, this guy has serious upside still to be developed. He could make a solid replacement player for DeShaun Williams, who was a nice rotational piece as a slightly undersized DT the past couple of seasons in Cincy.
The team grabbed a QB in Round 7 with the selection of Toledo’s LOGAN WOODSIDE, a very productive MAC QB. WOODSIDE is an accurate thrower and a smart player. He has enough athleticism to extend plays, but is not going to make a lot of plays with his legs. His arm strength is on the low average side for the pro level, but he won’t make a lot of mistakes with his throws. In essence he could make an effective back-up for DALTON, but is not likely to be the heir apparent for the starting job.
At Pick 252, they snapped up a road grader of an OG in ROD TAYLOR/Ole Miss. Taylor was a five star recruit out of high school, but never developed much more during his college career. If the team plans to run Joe Mixon a ton between the Tackles then TAYLOR may be a good fit, but he plays in a phone booth and won’t be downfield leading the runner into the secondary. I would not be shocked if he ends up as a 9th OL on the roster (if they keep that many), but more likely they will try to gauge the ability to get him on their Practice Squad without losing him to another team.
Last, but certainly not least, IMO at Pick 253 the team selected AUDEN TATE/WR/FSU. I was absolutely shocked that he lasted that long. He reminds me an awful lot of KELVIN BENJAMIN, another FSU WR. He did not impress in shorts at the Combine, but all you have to do is look at game tape to realize that he has the size to screen off defenders, and runs faster in pads than his 4.79/40-time would indicate. He makes a huge target at 6’5/228, and with 33 3/4″ arms. The separation he creates is by using his big frame to screen defenders from the ball. He is also not afraid to work the middle of the field. He might make the team initially just for his ability to screen off defenders and go high for the ball in the Red Zone. Of his 40 receptions last season, 10 were for TD. He’s a project, but his upside could be huge.
I like this group. And even though drafting an OC in Round 1 does not excite the imagination of most fans PRICE may anchor that line for a decade. I also think their coaching staff has a chance to seriously coach-up players like BATES, BROWN, PHILLIPS and TATE, thereby increasing the value of this Draft. I should also point out that the Bengals did NOT enter this Draft with 11 Picks and worked the process harder than they usually do. The depth of this Draft helped the Bengals chances to add roster depth and youth, and we need to give the team some credit for making it all work out to their advantage.