As NFL fanatics go to bed tonight, we dream of the picks our team will make. We dream that they will make an immediate impact and will be the next Kareem Hunt. The next Cam Newton. The next Odell Beckham Jr.
We dream that our team is going to make the pick that changes the direction of our franchise. But before commissioner Goodell walks to the podium on Thursday night in Dallas to announce the first rounders, let’s take a look at where the Bengals stand before they add their new brothers in stripes.
On offense, let’s start with the most pressing position group, the offensive line. The left side looks to be locked up and solid. Clint Boling returns for his eighth season at guard after another solid season. Cordy Glenn joins the team in a trade from Buffalo. He hopes to return to his 2016 pre-injury form which saw him as one of the top left tackles in the league.
On the right side, Trey Hopkins played well at left guard, and started 12 games. After an illness affected and shortened Jake Fisher’s season, look for him to be the top choice at right tackle, especially after Andre Smith moved on in free agency.
But don’t be surprised if the right name falls to them at 21 and they use that on a top rookie tackle. At center, a new face will be taking over, as the Bengals will almost certainly use an early round draft pick to fill the hole left by four year starter Russell Bodine heading to Buffalo.
Anyone who pays any small bit of attention to the Bengals knows that, barring catastrophe, Andy Dalton will be taking the snaps in 2018. Entering his eighth season with the franchise since being picked in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Dalton ranks first in winning percentage.
He ranks second in wins (62, 12th among active quarterbacks), passing yards, completions and completion percentage. He ranks third in TD passes. He has been a solid quarterback, but one that has not been able to take them to the next level, going 0-4 as a starter in playoff games.
After losing AJ McCarron to Buffalo this offseason, former USC quarterback Matt Barkley has been brought on to battle Jeff Driskel for the backup spot. Since being taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Barkley has had minimal playing time.
In 18 games, he has thrown 8 touchdown passes against 18 interceptions. While Driskel showed some promise in the 2017 preseason, he has yet to appear in a regular season NFL game. He is also coming off of an off season injury. The Bengals have had the luxury of McCarron the last few seasons.
With that gone, if Dalton goes down. the Bengals are left with very little experience, and little hope for success. Looking at the depth at the QB position, I, and most, anticipate the Bengals to pick up a QB in the draft for the future.
Running back is one of the positions that the Bengals seem to look pretty good. Though they did lose Jeremy Hill, they return Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon, a two headed monster of speed and strength.
Gio’s presence has spoken for itself. In his four seasons with the Bengals, he has averaged over 4 yards a carry and has averaged almost 50 catches a season out of the backfield.
All you need to do is watch his play on Halloween night in Miami in 2013 to know what he brings to this team. And while Mixon got off to a slow start in his rookie 2017 season, he finished strong as the workhorse and looks to build on that this season.
Behind Bernard and Mixon is a whopping 11 2017 carries from Brian Hill. Expect the Bengals to look to add some depth at the position on day 3.
At wide receiver, I would not expect the Bengals to be overly active, though a late round pick wouldn’t shock me. Currently, and for the forseeable future, the #1 spot belongs to perennial baller AJ Green.
On the other side, Brandon Lafell would seem to be the early front runner, though his 2017 season consisted of only 548 yards and 3 touchdowns. A healthy John Ross will undoubtedly be a difference maker in 2018, and I would expect will overtake Lafell as Dalton’s second choice on the outside.
After a solid final two games, including the dagger to the Ravens playoff hopes, Tyler Boyd will hope to slide into the slot and give the Bengals another speedy option of the middle. But after a down sophomore year that saw his receiving yard total drop by almost 400 yards, 2nd year receiver Josh Malone will most certainly challenge Boyd for playing time.
At tight end, Tyler Eifert is back for another year after signing a new deal. Eifert is a top tight end in the league when healthy, and if he stays that way, I expect the Bengals passing attack to be much improved. Tyler Kroft stepped up big time in Eifert’s absence.
He logged 404 yards and 7 touchdowns, and had a catch in all but one game in 2017. He proved effective and reliable, and the two should help make Dalton’s life easier on third down, and in the red zone.
Add CJ Uzomah into the mix, and you have a solid trio of tight ends.
Moving on to the defense, there is room for upgrade at every position, but let’s look at the secondary first. At corner, it appears the top three are set. Dre Kirkpatrick looks to have a comeback year after a down 2017. William Jackson stormed onto the scene and ranked as one of the top corners in the league, yielding a 31.1 quarterback rating when throwing his way.
After early career injuries, Darqueze Dennard is healthy and making a difference, and will certainly battle for playing time along with the other two. Beyond the three former 1st round draft picks, depth is needed. After a subpar season by Josh Shaw and Adam Jones being released, expect them to use a day two or three pick to add another young, talented body to the mix.
Big plays were also missing from the corner position, as they totaled only five interceptions all of 2017.
The safety position is another one that will most certainly be addressed in the draft. After Eric Reid came and left without a deal, the Bengals continue to have famili ar faces at the position.
After a solid 2016 season after signing a new deal, George Iloka was underwhelming in 2017 at strong safety, and always seemed to be a step behind a big play. At free safety, the story was similar with Shawn Williams, as he played in 11 games and totaled only 49 tackles.
Clayton Fejedelem played some useful snaps as well, and totaled 8 more tackles than Williams on the season. But a depth and talent upgrade is necessary.
The front seven will also need to see some improvement if they are to have more success in 2018. With Geno Atkins coming off another dominant season at defensive tackle that had him rack up nine sacks, there is no reason to think that he would fall of in 2018.
With veteran Pat Sims returning, along with youngsters Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow, they look to be in pretty good shape on the line. This looks to be an important season for Billings, as he missed his rookie season with an injury and had an average 2017. I would expect them to address the position on the 2nd or 3rd day.
On the ends, Carlos Dunlap still looks like he can be a top end in the league, though his numbers have been down the last few years. After recording 13.5 sacks in 2015, his numbers has dropped to 8 and 7.5 the last two seasons.
Michael Johnson is far from the player that earned him a big contract from Tampa Bay in 2014. He did contribute 5 sacks last season, but I would anticipate that second year player Jordan Willis will push Johnson for the starting spot.
After losing Chris Smith to the Browns in free agency, and missing at this position in some previous drafts, this is a position that badly needs depth, which will be addressed this weekend.
At linebacker, there are some holes that will have to be filled if the group is to improve upon a season that saw tight ends wide open over the middle in 2017 all too frequently.
Vontaze Burfict is out for the first four games due to a PED suspension, so the Bengals will again start the season with their field general on the sideline. Until he returns, newly converted DE Carl Lawson and Jordan Evans look to have the leg up on the outside linebacker spots to start the season.
And while Vinny Rey has been a reliable mainstay for the last eight seasons, his issues in coverage are glaring and were a big problem last year. A big upgrade has arrived at middle linebacker with the signing of Cincinnati native Preston Brown in free agency.
In his four seasons in Buffalo, he never had less than 109 tackles, and led the NFL in tackles in 2017. Hardy Nickerson should also contribute, but this is another position that will be tackled early, and don’t be surprised if the Bengals use the 21st pick on it, if the right player is there.
As has been evidenced by the past two seasons, the Bengals have some holes that have to be filled. While they improved the line by trading for Glenn and improved the linebacker corps by signing Brown, the Bengals can not afford another mediocre draft, and my cautious optimism leads me to believe that will not happen this weekend in Dallas.
After the dust has settled, I will be back to reassess where the Bengals stand, and hope to do so with great excitement for the 2018 season to begin.