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Smith status changes Bengals' draft focus

With Andre Smith remaining unsigned, the Bengals will seriously look at taking an offensive tackle early in the NFL Draft.

The national holiday that is the NFL Draft is upon us, a three-day festival celebrating football’s future booms and busts beginning on Thursday.


The Bengals have the 21st overall pick in the first round and will start with a total of 10 picks in the seven rounds, including two each in Rounds 2, 6 and 7. Coming off of consecutive playoff seasons, the Bengals don’t have glaring holes to fill on their roster but there are certainly some significant moves to be made.


This is a look at the offensive side of the ball and some of the areas, in order of need, the Bengals could be targeting.


OFFENSIVE LINE


The fact that right tackle Andre Smith remains unsigned pushes the Bengals into the market of taking a tackle in the first round. It previously appeared to be a no-brain proposition that they wouldn’t need to look that high for the position but unless something happens between now and Thursday you can speculate all you want about the likes of a D.J. Fluker of Alabama, Menelik Watson of Florida State or another tackle being selected at No. 21.


Depth-wise, this unit is pretty good. Guard Clint Boling has had two straight seasons in which he was thrust into the starting lineup because of injury and circumstance but this season he is at the top of the depth chart at left guard. A healthy Kyle Cook should help but regardless, Trevor Robinson got invaluable experience last season and the Bengals signed veteran Mike Pollak who, if he’s overcome some injury concerns, can help at either inside position.


Sixth-year player Anthony Collins will get the first shot at right tackle if Smith doesn’t re-sign.


"I'm keeping my head down, not causing any problems," Collins said. "When they're ready to play me, I'm going to play."


If the Bengals are looking at tackle after the first round, keep in mind the names of Justin Pugh (Syracuse), David Quessenberry (San Jose State) and Brennan Williams (North Carolina).


RUNNING BACK


Eddie Lacy of Alabama is a name that keeps popping up with the Bengals on various mock drafts be it in the first round or with their first pick of the second round (No. 37). BenJarvus Green-Ellis came in last year and filled the bill for what the Bengals were expecting out of him as an all-around player but there is a definite need of a backup to him. The knee injury that ended Bernard Scott’s season in October makes it even more of a necessity. The Bengals have re-signed Scott but only time will tell on how well he comes back from the injury.


After Lacy, the consensus top-rated backs are Montee Ball of Wisconsin, Johnathan Franklin of UCLA and Giovani Bernard of North


Carolina. Franklin had the top 40-yard dash time of the four in the combine and pro day workouts and could be a solid second-day selection.


WIDE RECEIVER


The search for a second target behind A.J. Green continues. Mohamed Sanu was on the rise last year as a rookie before a foot injury suffered in practice ended the third-rounder’s season after nine games. There is still a lot of promise for Sanu and Marvin Jones (last year’s fifth-round pick) but don’t completely rule out a wide receiver in the first round, especially if somehow Tayvon Austin of West Virginia is still around.


There has been a pattern to the Bengals and their wide receiver choices over the past few years; go big. Green, Sanu and Jones are all taller receivers who have versatility to play at different spots on the field.


DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson (6-1, 214) and Justin Hunter of Tennessee (6-4, 196) fit that style.


TIGHT END


Not a position of great need with Jermaine Gresham coming off of three consecutive 50-plus reception seasons, veteran Alex Smith just signed in free agency and Orson Charles having had a solid rookie season but never say never.


Notre Dame’s Kyle Eifert is the top-rated tight end in this year’s class and, if he’s on the board, this could be a reason why other teams call the Bengals looking to move up. UC’s Travis Kelce and San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar have shown the ability to make plays downfield. The question with any tight end the Bengals pick is: can they block at the point of attack? That is crucial to anyone playing the position in Cincinnati.


QUARTERBACK


Andy Dalton is set as the starter and there should be a good competition for the backup spot between John Skelton, claimed on waivers from Arizona, free-agent signee Josh Johnson and Zac Robinson, who has spent the past two seasons on the Bengals’ practice squad. Unless they use a late-round pick on the best player available, it would be a surprise if the Bengals select a quarterback.