We’ve been talking about the Bengals and quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft for months. Now that the draft is here this week, let’s explore five other needs and potential targets for the Bengals. They’re listed in no particular order…
LINEBACKER: Dhani Jones is 34 and headed for free agency. The Michael Johnson Experiment hasn’t yielded great results, and Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga are still finding their way, though the ceiling remains high for both. Will Maualuga take over the middle and reach his potential? Either way, the Bengals need their linebackers to make more plays. Von Miller would be a great addition with the fourth overall pick, though he figures to be gone before the Bengals pick. As they look to the later rounds a pair of North Carolina players, Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, are intriguing for their athleticism. Ohio State’s Ross Homan will be drafted in the final three rounds and probably isn’t ready to start, but he is smart and versatile enough to contribute immediately in the nickel package and on special teams and upgrade someone’s linebacking corps. The Bengals seem as good a fit as any for the Coldwater, Ohio native. Cincinnati native Greg Jones of Michigan State could also be in the mix later in the draft.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Specifically the interior of the offensive line. This isn’t a position the Bengals will look to address in the first round, but with Bobbie Williams set to turn 35 and journeymen at the other interior spots, look for the Bengals to draft at least one guard. Kyle Cook has started every game the last two seasons at center and should grow from that experience, but an upgrade is possible there, too. Florida State’s Rodney Hudson, Baylor’s Danny Watkins and Pitt’s Jason Pinkston are regarded as the top guards and could come off the board in the second round. It seems the Bengals will look elsewhere at that point of the draft, but of all the things the Bengals have been, predictable is not often one of them.
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DEFENSIVE LINE: Antwan Odom just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. The Bengals hope Carlos Dunlap will continue to improve at the other end spot; he’d be even better with a more consistent rush on the other side to complement him. The Bengals also could use a young defensive tackle as they got gashed vs. the run at times last season with Jonathan Fanene and Tank Johnson injured. Defensive line is a need on some level for the entire AFC North, and as the league as a whole becomes more pass-happy being able to pressure the quarterback is a priority. Given his history and that of the Bengals, North Carolina’s Marvin Austin looms as the name to watch at defensive tackle. He’s a first-round talent who might still be available in the second or even the third due to off-field concerns.
SAFETY: Chris Crocker and Roy Williams both have injury concerns and both are over 30. Chinedum Ndukwe is a borderline starter. Reggie Nelson was a nice find and had 2 interceptions last year when pressed into duty, but this is a position the Bengals need to upgrade and certainly will look to do so in this draft. It’s not considered a great draft for the position, so the Bengals will look for a guy who fits their schemes and maybe one who can play both safety spots. Some names to watch in the middle rounds include DeAndre McDaniel of Clemson, Robert Sands of West Virginia, Jaiquwan Jarrett of Temple and Will Hill of Florida. All are bigger safeties, which has been what the Bengals have looked for in the past.
RUNNING BACK: The Bengals need to get younger at all the skill positions (except tight end), and though A.J. Green would be a fit at No. 4 the Bengals don’t have a pressing need at wide receiver until they see more of Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell. With Cedric Benson due to become a free agent and Bernard Scott looking more like a change-of-pace back than an every down option, the Bengals figure to look for a bigger back some time in rounds 2-5. The top three runners in this draft seem to be, in some order, Mark Ingram of Alabama, Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech and Mikel Leshoure of Illinois. It’s not a lock any of them will go in the first round with a possible historic run on defensive linemen, but all should come off the board in the 20-40 range. The guess here is that the Bengals will go quarterback in the second round, but if they don’t their history says they’ll grab the most talented available player and all three of those backs are potential targets.