The Cincinnati Bengals opened the final day of the NFL Draft by selecting Texas A&M linebacker Sean Porter in the fourth round, but they ended Saturday’s flurry of picks with five consecutive offensive players.
Seven of the team’s 10 draft picks were offensive players, featuring three linemen, two running backs and one wide receiver selected Saturday after taking tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round Thursday.
The Bengals have had at least one rookie in the opening day lineup the last 10 years, but that might not be the case Sept. 8 in Chicago because the team has so many returning starters after making a commitment to re-sign as many of their free agents as they could. That plan culminated Friday with offensive tackle Andre Smith signing a three-year, $18 million contract.
All 11 starters on offensive are back, and nine on defense for a young, rising team that has gone to the playoffs two years in a row.
Even if none of the 10 players drafted this weekend ends up starting, they are going to give the Bengals depth, and competition, as some key spots.
“The guys we drafted are going to have an opportunity to breathe on the necks of some guys that might have been on the roster last year,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “That’s what professional sports and the National Football League should be about – competition. Just because you were on the football team a year ago does not preserve the right, the seat, the chair to be here again this year.
“If they displace a guy, that’s part of the process, so be it,” he added. “It should make us better in the process.”
Here is a look at Saturday’s six picks:
Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M (fourth round, 118 overall): A run-stopping force, the 6-foot-1, 231-pound Porter made 178 of his 261 career tackles against opposing running backs, and 77 of those stops resulted in no gain or a loss.
He started 41 of 52 games at Texas A&M – 39 at SAM and two at WIL – and finished with two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 12 pass deflections and one interception.
“He has great athleticism,” Lewis said. “He’s played the outside positions, he’s played the inside positions. He can really run and cover. He’s a guy that’s going to be both big enough and strong enough, but also have the flexibility in the hips to be a productive guy on this level.”
Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas (fifth round, 156 overall): A defensive end in high school, Hawkinson expected to play tight end at Kansas. But after a redshirt season he moved to tackle and started all 12 games while earning freshman All-American honors.
The 6-foot-5, 298-pound Hawkinson made 48 career starts at Kansas, a school record. He is nicknamed “Ricky Bobby” because he looks like Will Ferrell.
“He reminds me in some ways, not as good, but similar in style to how (Eric) Steinbach was,” Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander said. “I’m very happy to get the kid. He’s smart, he’s a great character guy, team captain, very competitive, a nice All-American boy, perfect guy. Why is he still there? He needs to get stronger and he’s kind of a young guy body-wise, maybe a little bit behind some others, and is going to mature and get stronger and grow into it and, hopefully, be a great NFL player.”
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (sixth round, 190 overall): Burkhead finished among the top-five rushers in Nebraska history with 3,329 yards. He was limited to eight games his senior season after suffering a sprained knee in the season opener.
The 5-foot-10, 214-pound Burkhead also is an Academic All-American who earned a history degree in just three and a half years.
“The thing that’s exciting at this point in time in the draft, you’re looking for players that can really come in and make a difference and still have a chance to compete and play,” Lewis said. “He’s had some injuries early on his career and didn’t play as much this past year, but he has the characteristics we’re looking for. We were really fortunate to get (second-round pick) Giovani (Bernard) when we got him, and this was another really good football player sitting there that we were able to get.”
Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas (sixth round, 197 overall): Hamilton set single-season school records at Arkansas with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. No other Razorbacks receiver had ever caught more than 66 in a season.
This pick was one of the two the Bengals received from New England in the Chad Johnson trade.
Hamilton’s 175 career receptions also were a school record, and his 2,854 receiving yards rank third despite him starting just 30 of 51 games. The 6-foot-2, 209-pounder is known for having sure hands and running complicated routes
“I think I’m a better receiver,” Hamilton said when asked if the sixth round is where he expected to be drafted. “I’m just really excited to come to Cincinnati with a chip on my shoulder. I’m going to show everyone that I should’ve been drafted way earlier.”
Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State (seventh round, 240 overall): Fragel is the second 6-foot-8 player the Bengals drafted this weekend, joining second-round defensive end Margus Hunt. That should make for some interesting matchups during OTAs and training camp.
Fragel began his career as a tight end at OSU, but he started just nine games in his first three seasons and switched to the offensive line for his senior year. He bulked up to 310 pounds and helped lead the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record, starting all 12 games.
“He’s a big, athletic player who made the transition offensively and he just kept growing and was really impressive strength-wise with what he did at the Combine,” Lewis said. “He’s just an impressive, young prospect who’s still on the come. We really feel like he’s a great addition to the football team up front.”