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Cincinnati Bengals

The 2018 impact meter for every Cincinnati Bengals draft pick

Russell Heltman

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That’s all she wrote.

The 2018 NFL Draft is complete, as the Cincinnati Bengals used all 11 of their draft picks to bolster a roster that has playoff aspirations after missing out on the party over the past two seasons.

It would be folly to think every pick handed into the league office will see the field for the Bengals this season but they all have a chance to make an impact one way or another.

Time to assess what kind of influence each pick could have on the gridiron this Fall.

Billy Price – C, Ohio State
Impact Meter: MASSIVE

This guy represents one of the biggest keys to Bengals success this fall. After “losing” longtime-starter Russell Bodine to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, center became the biggest area of need for this Bengals team. The only one on the roster before Thursday night was T.J. Johnson, who has started just five games since being drafted in 2013. The Bengals didn’t wait to address the hole up front, drafting Billy Price with the 21st pick in the draft.

The 2017 Rimington Award winner, Price is arguably the best center in the draft and figures to be a day-one starter once camp opens on July 26th. Price notched 55 starts between guard and center for the Buckeyes and anchored one of the best run-blocking units in college football last season.

The Ohio native figures to be a stalwart for Cincinnati similar to what Rich Braham was in the first few years of the Marvin Lewis-era. Frank Ragnow would’ve likely been the selection had he not been taken a pick earlier by Detroit, but Price is a nasty road grader who will command the huddle and play with passion each and every snap.

Jessie Bates III – S, Wake Forest
Impact Meter: MODERATE

I noted in my debut article for Locked On Bengals that Cincinnati was in need of playmakers in the back end of the defense and they added one with their lone pick in the second round.

Bates is very similar to the guy they brought in for a visit earlier in the month, Eric Reid, but with even better ball skills. He is hard-nosed and likes to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage in anticipation of closing out quicker on ball carriers. The Wake Forest product should be a welcome addition to a Teryl Austin-unit that wants to implement more three-safety looks. Bates can play close to the line or drop back in coverage where he had six interceptions and 10 passes defended during his time as a Demon Deacon. He represents a welcome addition to a defense that ranked 31st in turnovers forced last season.

Expect Bates to be in some limited packages during his first year with the Bengals but don’t be surprised if he lights a few guys up on kick returns, he will be an immediate special teams contributor.

Sam Hubbard – DE, Ohio State
Impact Meter: MODERATE

Part of a rookie trio headed from the Buckeyes to the Bengals, Hubbard was a fantastic value pick at #77 overall. The former Buckeye tore up Big Ten offensive tackles. Across three seasons at Ohio State, Hubbard totaled 17 sacks and 30 tackles for loss.

Hubbard provides depth to a strong but uninsured defensive end group. Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson should be the week one starters but they are entering the final year of their contracts and we’ve all seen how underwhelming Johnson has been during his second stint in Cincinnati. Hubbard is a little undersized to be a full-time defensive end in Teryl Austin’s 4-3 system but I expect him to bulk up over time and carve out a larger role in the process.

We won’t have to worry about his excitement to play for Cincinnati, Hubbard grew up in the tri-state area and was a diehard Bengals fan growing up and now gets to suit up for his dream franchise. Don’t be shocked if Hubbard or sophomore Jordan Willis supplants Johnson as the starter at some point this season.

Malik Jefferson – LB, Texas
Impact Meter: MODERATE/MASSIVE

Speed.

That has been the weakest aspect of the Bengals linebacking corps over the past few seasons and they addressed that with Jefferson.

The Texas product ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (3rd among linebackers) and was unleashed when Texas altered their defense last season.  Jefferson tallied 110 tackles in 2017 including 10 for loss and four sacks.

Checking in at 6’3″ and 235 pounds, Jefferson has the prototypical size and speed to be a dominant linebacker in today’s NFL but he often plays with a recklessness that can cost a defense dearly.

If linebackers coach Jim Haslett can coach him up and reign him in just a bit, Jefferson could end up being a perfect partner for Vontaze Burfict when he returns from his four-game suspension.

Expect him to see substantial playing time while Burfict is on the shelf.

Mark Walton – RB, Miami
Impact Meter: MINIMAL

A lot of Bengals faithful threw up their hands in disgust when this pick came across the ticker but I expect them to eat their words more than once over the next few years.

Walton is one of the shiftiest home run-hitters in this draft and the value was just too good to pass up in the fourth round. Before an ankle injury cut his final season in Miami seven games short, Walton was putting together a monster season for the Hurricanes on the ground, rushing for 428 yards and three touchdowns on a whopping 7.6 yards per carry.

Walton can make just about any human on the planet miss in the open field and he provides depth to a running back committee that saw Jeremy Hill and Cedric Peerman depart this season.

Walton likely won’t see many carries in 2018 but Gio Bernard only has two years left on his deal and Walton can be a day-one contributor on special teams.

Davontae Harris – CB, Illinois State
Impact Meter: MINIMAL

The only FCS player drafted by the Bengals, Davontae Harris was brought in to offer depth on the outside of the defense. Harris has some issues with ball tracking and coverage technique but he had impressive measurables at the combine including a 4.43 40-yard dash and 22 reps on the bench press.

Adam Jones remains unsigned, while Josh Shaw and Darqueze Dennard are both entering contract years so the Bengals needed to add another promising player to the cornerback room.

Expect the FCS All-American to see limited snaps in relief of Dennard in the slot but he will likely notch the most looks on the special teams unit.

Andrew Brown – DT, Virginia
Impact Meter: MODERATE/MASSIVE

In my eyes, Andrew Brown is the only late-round pick that has a chance to be a consistent starter for the Bengals this season. Cincinnati really needed to address this position with All-Pro talent Geno Atkins set to hit free agency next year, and let’s be honest, Andrew Billings has not impressed alongside him.

Billings ranked 119th among defensive tackles last season according to Pro Football Focus and Ryan Glasgow outperformed him throughout his rookie campaign.

Brown played defensive end at Virginia and has the long arms that often cause headaches for opposing guards. After accumulating 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks over 34 games, Brown brings an aggressive nature to the interior line that mirrors his All-Pro partner.

I don’t expect Brown to be the week one starter alongside Geno Atkins, but he has a great chance to take control of that role if he can bring the same mentality he showed at Virginia into Paul Brown Stadium.

Darius Phillips – CB, Western Michigan
Impact Meter: MODERATE/MASSIVE

I hope Adam Jones wasn’t anticipating a return to Cincinnati this Fall because the Bengals crushed that storyline with their final pick of the fifth round.

Darius Phillips represents another chance to bolster the cornerback depth but the biggest reason a massive impact is possible lies in his game-breaking return skills.

Phillips holds the FBS-record for return touchdowns and has shown the ability to ring up big plays every time he gets ahold of the football.

The Detroit native had a return touchdown in all four years at WMU and 12 interceptions in three full seasons at corner.I noted earlier how desperate the Bengals are for playmakers in the secondary and Phillips should be able to contribute day one as a slot corner.

Dennard will still see the majority of the snaps inside but Phillips can immediately step in as the Bengals #1 return man. A fifth-straight season with a return touchdown will make Phillips a household name among Bengals fans.

Logan Woodside – QB, Toledo
Impact Meter: MINIMAL/MODERATE

This is one of my favorite value picks of the entire draft.
Woodside is a savvy, pinpoint passer who I had a chance to see first hand when he went up against the Ohio Bobcats last season.

His production dropped off a bit in his senior campaign but Woodside has always taken pretty good care of the football (93 career TD, 25 INT) and he completed 65.1 percent of his passes during his career on an astounding 9.1 yards per attempt.

Woodside can make almost every throw in the book and despite having an average arm he was still one of the most prolific deep ball throwers in the nation last season.

The Bengals were not looking to start the season with Matt Barkley as their only insurance behind Andy Dalton. I expect Woodside to win the backup role and be ready fill in for Dalton should anything happen to the Red Rifle.

Rod Taylor – OG, Ole Miss
Impact Meter: MINIMAL

Rod Taylor was the second and final offensive lineman taken by the Bengals, much to the surprise of people outside the franchise. It makes sense though, offensive line was clearly not the strength of this draft and there is no need to reach for something that isn’t there.

With that being said, I think Taylor has a solid shot to make the final roster cut because he can play tackle or guard and represents a nice little project for Frank Pollack and the rest of his staff.

Don’t expect Taylor to become the next Anthony Muñoz, but a solid back up role doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility.

Auden Tate – WR, Florida State
Impact Meter: MINIMAL

The Bengals last selection in the 2018 NFL Draft brings some serious upside to a crowded wide receivers room and represents another great value pick in the final ten selections.

Auden Tate notched 40 catches for 548 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Seminoles last season and checked into the combine at 6’5″ and 228 pounds.

If Tate can stand out amongst the other three wide receivers fighting for a roster spot he will be a huge red-zone target for Andy Dalton and represent another weapon for a Bengals offense that is shaping up to be loaded when the 2018 season kicks off.

A Cincinnati sports fan since before he could walk, Russ grew up in Anderson Township and currently attends Ohio University where he is pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Aside from cheering on all of the lovable losers in Cincinnati, Russ is an avid golfer and diehard Charlotte Hornets fan. When he's not breaking down the Bengals on 97 WATH you can find his analysis and thoughts on everything Orange and Black right here.

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Podcast

Austin, Bates and Kirkpatrick discuss George Iloka’s release

James Rapien

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I discuss the Bengals’ decision to release George Iloka on today’s podcast. Plus, hear from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and the man who’s expected to replace Iloka in the starting lineup – Jessie Bates. Hear that and more on today’s Locked on Bengals podcast.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Grading the Bengals victory in Dallas

Russell Heltman

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The Cincinnati Bengals are undefeated halfway through the 2018 preseason slate but if the 2017 Browns taught us anything it’s that victories before September matter a lot less than the performances that go into them. With that being said it was a victorious night for the orange and black but it was rarely pretty, time to assess their performance in each phase of the game.

Offense: C-

It was an ugly night on offense for Cincinnati, The starters basically no-showed in the first half and here’s how each drive looked before they headed to the locker room: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Interception.

All in all the first-team offense put together two drives with no first downs and 10 total yards.

That’s enough to put any team down three scores early in a regular season game and plenty of those struggles were linked to the offensive line. The left side looked decent with Clint Boling and Cordy Glenn proving they can be trusted with backside pressure. Outside of that, it was pretty rough, Bobby Hart started the game at right tackle and was shredded by Pro Bowl end Demarcus Lawrence. Cedric Ogbuehi was even worse as his replacement, allowing a sack to Taco Charlton even though he was called for a hold on the play.

As for right guard and center, Trey Hopkins didn’t make any egregious mistakes and contributed as the center on a 14-play, 92-yard TD drive in the third quarter. The argument could be made for him to be the backup center over T.J. Johnson.

Rookie center Billy Price on the other hand still has a lot of work to do, some of it looks like rookie mistakes but that is now two games into his career where he’s looked a little lost. The former Buckeye isn’t quite where we need him to be three weeks from Indianapolis. Right now Joe Mixon is averaging 2.4 yards per carry in the preseason, don’t expect that to get much better without improvement up front.

On a positive note, Jeff Driskel looked competent and collected in the second half. The Florida product went 10-of-16, for 116 yards and 1 interception but he led the Bengals longest drive of the night highlighted by this gem to John Ross.

The Bengals got the win and scored 21 points but still have a long, long way to go on the offensive line.

Defense: A

I fully expect this group to be the heart and soul of the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals.

They were absolutely dominant in Dallas, especially on the defensive line where they picked up five sacks including this power rush from Jordan Willis.

Sam Hubbard, Nick Vigil, and Carl Lawson tallied a sack and highlighted this crew’s biggest strengths: depth and versatility. Teryl Austin has the luxury of a talented front seven that isn’t reliant on one or two players but on the machine as a whole. The Cowboys could never get into a rhythm offensively because Cincinnati consistently won the first two seconds of each play. Andrew Billings was a big part of that equation, he got pressure on the inside all night and all but cemented a starting spot alongside Geno Atkins.

Pair this group with another deep crew in the cornerback room and all of those issues I mentioned above might not matter if the defense only allows 13 points on a regular basis.

As for the last line of defense, rookie Jessie Bates III got some first-team reps in place of George Iloka and looked the part, Austin has talked about running more three-safety looks all offseason and Bates III is making that game plan look more likely each week.

The offense might not be ready but this defense, despite missing Vontaze Burfict, looks ready to pounce on Andrew Luck in week one.

Special Teams: B+

This was arguably the Jonathan Brown game.

The soccer convert out of Louisville had never kicked a field goal at any level before coming to the NFL and now he has put the pressure on incumbent kicker Randy Bullock. Brown went 2-for-2 on field goal tries including a 55-yard field in the third quarter, that would have tied the Bengals regular season record set by Mike Nugent.

Marvin Lewis came out after the game and said Bullock is still the guy, which isn’t big news, he did go 18-of-20 for the Bengals last season, but keep an eye on Brown over the last two preseason games. Cincinnati let a young kicker go last year who is shaping up to be pretty special.

As far as the return game goes, Darius Phillips will be returning his fair share of kicks for the Bengals this season. he flashed serious game-breaking ability last night, finishing with three returns for 96 total yards. Making it pretty clear how he left Western Michigan as the NCAA’s all-time leader in return touchdowns.

Phillips can slide in alongside Alex Erickson this season and form one of the most dynamic return duos in the NFL. The Cowboys put together a couple of nice kickoff returns but Cincinnati’s unit won the night in the end.

The Bengals were edged out in one phase while dominating the other two and that often leads to victories in the NFL. We will see if they can link all three together next week in Buffalo.

 

For more quick-hit thoughts on the Bengals follow me on Twitter: @russheltman11

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Cincinnati Bengals

Players are buying into Bill Lazor’s offense

James Rapien

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The Bengals finished dead last in total offense last season. Yes, the 0-16 Browns finished ahead of them. So did the Colts, who played all 16 games without quarterback Andrew Luck. If you love offense, then you probably didn’t enjoy watching the Bengals last season. They scored less than 10 points in five games and didn’t reach the end zone until week three.

The offense hit rock bottom in 2017, but they don’t expect that trend to continue. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor led a complete overhaul of an offensive that had been in place since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were drafted in 2011. Sure, they made some tweaks over the past seven seasons, but nothing like this. Lazor rebuilt an offense that needed it desperately and the players are buying in.

“I like it. It’s different terminology, numbers and stuff like that,” Alex Erickson said. “It’s obviously challenging in the beginning, but we’ve had minicamp and OTA’s to really learn it. It’s allowed us to really progress this training camp.”

Erickson hasn’t played on a winning Bengals team. He beat out Brandon Tate for a roster spot in 2016, after going undrafted. The former Wisconsin Badger is one of the many weapons that Lazor has in his arsenal. Did he design a system that will put the skill players in the best position to succeed? That’s a question that cannot be answered until actual games start, but it’s been asked since Lazor was named offensive coordinator.

The Bengals used high draft picks on skill players over the past three seasons. They drafted a wide receiver in the top ten, a running back in the second round and multiple wide receivers in rounds two through four. They have former pro bowler Tyler Eifert, a talented running back like Giovani Bernard and a top five wide receiver in Green. Did Lazor design a system that will get the most out of a young, but talented offense? Third-year wide receiver Tyler Boyd loves the depth this team has.

“We got fresh guys out there. Guys that are hungry,” Boyd said. “Guys that are willing and dying to get out there on the field and make plays. Every guy wants the best out of each other. We do a great job of motivating each other, grinding hard and competing with one another. We all have a great friendship. We’re all cool and we’re all real tight. We all want everyone to play a part. We don’t want it to just be me and A.J. all of the time. We are able to get me and A.J. a break or get two fresh guys in there and continue what we were doing. It makes it a lot easier for the offense to improve from last year.”

That unselfishness is important to have, even on a team that finished dead last in total offense last season. There are a lot of mouths to feed. From Joe Mixon and Bernard, to Eifert and Tyler Kroft, who are both in contract years. Boyd is eager to prove last year was a mere speed bump, in what will be a successful career in Cincinnati. Former ninth overall pick John Ross not only wants to move past last season, he wants to show people that the Bengals made the right decision when they drafted him in 2017. Instead of worrying about their own touches, it seems like the offense is more worried about being successful.

Fans got their first glimpse of Lazor’s new offense last Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium. The first-team offense scored two touchdowns on three drives. Dalton completed six passes to five different players. They were nearly perfect, outside of an interception that occurred when Ross fell down on a route. The Bengals are buying into Lazor’s system and the skill players are excited about their potential.

“You look at the depth at each and every position. To me, it’s absolutely insane,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “It’s not fair – how much skill we have. The offensive line is protecting well. When we’re able to establish the run early, I think that opens everything else up.”

The Bengals will need to be better on the ground this season. They averaged 3.6 yards-per-carry last year and finished next to last in the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,366. Detroit was last with 1,221. If this team is going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, they’re going to need their rushing attack to take a significant step forward. The offensive line is expected to be better with the additions of Cordy Glenn, Billy Price and Bobby Hart. Improvement up front will give Lazor a chance to show he can properly utilize two dynamic and versatile running backs in Mixon and Bernard.

And while the Bengals offense may begin with the ground game, it certainly won’t end there. They have made a concerted effort to throw the ball downfield in training camp. That makes sense when you have Green, Ross and other young players who are capable of making huge plays. Rookie Auden Tate has been impressive and so has second-year wide receiver Josh Malone.

They have shown their potential throughout training camp. Don’t look now, but this offense may complete a 180-degree turnaround from where they were a year ago.

 

For more on Bengals training camp, listen to today’s Locked on Bengals podcast:

 

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