While the Cincinnati Bengals have been virtual bystanders during the first phase of roster restocking, signing just one external player since free agency began March 12, that likely will not be the case in a little more than three weeks at the NFL Draft.
Already armed with two extra picks resulting from the trades of Carson Palmer (second round, 37th overall) and Chad Johnson (sixth round, 197th), the Bengals received an additional pair of compensatory seventh-round picks (240th and 251st overall) earlier this month at the owners meetings.
They are losing their first pick in the seventh round (227th) as part of the trade with San Francisco that brought Taylor Mays here in 2011. But the Bengals still enter the draft with 10 picks, which if they hold on to them would tie for the second-most in franchise history since the NFL went to the current seven-round format in 1994.
So the question is, what will they do with them? With three picks in the first 53 and four in the top 84, the Bengals have plenty of flexibility. A sampling of mock drafts from various national writers shows the team using its first pick (21st overall) on a wide receiver, tackle, safety, cornerback or linebacker.
A speed running back to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis is high on team’s list of needs as well, although most experts don’t see any of the available backs as being worthy of a first-round pick.
Following are four positions the Bengals are most likely to address in the early rounds, along with a look at the top players available at each of those positions and their list of strengths and weaknesses.
Who’s under contract: Tony Dye (undrafted college free agent in 2012, spent season on IR); George Iloka (fifth-round pick in 2012, played in seven games, mostly on special teams); Taylor Mays (fourth-year player who played in all 16 games with three starts); Reggie Nelson (seventh-year player who started 14 games, missing the other two due to injury); and Robert Sands (third-year player who spent 2012 on IR).
Who’s not: Unrestricted free agents Chris Crocker and Nate Clements have yet to sign with anyone. The two combined for 14 starts at safety in 2012 (with Clements also starting four games at corner), but both players are 33 years old.
In limbo: Jeromy Miles (fourth-year player who appeared in all 16 games last year with one start; a restricted free agent who has been tendered a one-year offer).
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, 6-foot, 214 pounds
Strengths: Able to lock on to slot receivers at the line as well as run with wideouts down the field. Strong enough to shed blockers and make tackles. Attacks the run well even from deep coverage.
Weaknesses: Has a tendency to freelance. Used primarily in man coverage at the line, needs work on taking better angles and covering back half of defense.
Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International, 6-foot, 217 pounds
Strengths: Thick build enables him to stand ground against bigger blockers and work his way through traffic. Sure tackler. Also possesses great speed and athleticism and an ability to close quickly.
Weaknesses: Lacks length it takes to play as a single safety at back end. Sometimes is slow with recognition. Aggression against run sometimes leads to bites on play fakes.
Matt Elam, Florida, 5-foot-10, 208 pounds
Strengths: Physicality allows him to play close to the line, making him a disruptive force in both coverage and blitzes. Top-end speed allows him to chase down receivers when needed. Great as a gunner in punt coverage.
Weaknesses: Too enamored with the big hit. Tends to lunge and launch rather than wrapping up. Lacks a sense of urgency and often gets caught standing around watching others make the play.
Who’s under contract: Anthony Collins (sixth-year player who appeared in five games in 2012); Dan Knapp (second-year player signed in November, spent final five games on practice squad); Dennis Roland (sixth-year player who appeared in all 16 games in 2012 with two starts, signed a one-year deal earlier this month); Andrew Whitworth (eighth-year veteran coming off first Pro Bowl season).
Who’s not: Unrestricted free agent Andre Smith still is unsigned, although negotiations are ongoing. What happens with him will greatly impact how the Bengals’ approach to the early part of the draft.
Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, 6-foot-6, 306 pounds
Strengths: Great foot movement and balance results in him rarely giving up the edge. Inside power step thwarts spin moves. Can cut block when needed. Quick recovery. Likely a top three pick.
Weaknesses: Upper and lower body strength is good, not great. Played in two-point stance in college and can get caught upright. Didn’t see a lot of up-the-field rushers due to Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel’s ability to run.
Eric Fisher, Central Michigan, 6-foot-7, 306 pounds
Strengths: Great balance and agility, as well as nastiness. Strong pass protector. Able to ride rushers inside and stop twists outside. Can adjust to moving targets when he gets out front on runs.
Weaknesses: Slow hands enable rushers to get theirs on his chest. Has a tendency to lunge in run game. Needs to add strength in upper and lower body to handle pro defenders as opposed to the ones he saw in the Mid-American Conference.
Lane Johnson, Oklahoma, 6-foot-6, 203 pounds
Strengths: Athleticism (honorable mention all-state quarterback his senior year in high school). Has good pad level and balance. Sustains blocks and finishes them. Plays with an attitude and enjoys hand fighting with defenders.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience as a lineman after playing tight end and defensive end early in college career. Needs to work on technique and add strength.
Who’s under contract: Vontaze Burfict (had a breakout season and led the team in tackles as a rookie after going undrafted in 2012); Brandon Joiner (first-year player who was ineligible to play last year while serving jail time on felony robbery and drug charges stemming from 2007); Emmanuel Lamur (second-year player and another undrafted player who appeared in nine games); Rey Maualuga (fifth-year player who struggled at times but recently signed a two-year deal to return); Aaron Maybin (fifth-year player and former first-round draft pick who signed a reserve/future contract in January); Dontay Moch (second-year player who appeared in just one game last year due to chronic migraines); J.K. Schaffer (first-year player and Cincinnati native who was on the practice squad after signing in November).
Who’s not: Dan Skuta signed with San Francisco, and Manny Lawson is headed to Buffalo. Unrestricted free agent Thomas Howard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in September, is still unsigned. Vincent Rey is a third-year player and exclusive rights free agent who has been tendered a one-year offer. He appeared in 16 games last year with one start.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, 6-foot-1, 241 pounds
Strengths: Stops momentum on first contact. Vocal leader on and off the field. Can follow stretch plays sideline to sideline and cover backs in the flat. Thick build and downhill player.
Weaknesses: Will bring a lot of scrutiny following the fake dead girlfriend story. Average height. Stiff backpedal. Often makes missteps on play action and misdirection. Drops head ahead of impact, sometimes resulting in missed tackles.
Alec Ogletree, Georgia, 6-2, 242 pounds
Strengths: Tremendous speed. Can chase down plays from behind. Attacks blockers and ball carriers with ferocity, leading to forced fumbles. Good at covering backs out of the backfield and can erase mistakes with closing speed.
Weaknesses: Character will be an issue following DUI arrest in February. Has a tendency to over-run plays due to aggressive nature. Sometimes lunges at tackles instead of running through them.
Barkevious Mingo, LSU, 6-foot-4, 241 pounds
Strengths: Tall and long with an explosive first step. Welcomes contact but also agile enough to stay with backs in pass coverage. Great leaping ability results in frequent pass deflections.
Weaknesses: Thin build causes problems with shedding blocks. Pays too much attention to blockers rather than seeing what is happening in backfield. Struggles sometimes with change of direction. Will be learning new position after playing defensive end in college.
Who’s under contract: Jourdan Brooks (first-year fullback who spent first half of 2012 on practice squad before released; signed a reserve/future contract in January); John Conner (fourth-year fullback who appeared in two games after signing in December); BenJarvus Green-Ellis (sixth-year player who had career highs in yards and attempts last season); Daniel Herron (sixth-round pick in 2012, appeared in three games, mostly on special teams); Cedric Peerman (fourth-year player who excels on special teams and recently signed a two-year deal); Chris Pressley (fifth-year player who appeared in first 14 games before suffering season-ending knee injury).
Who’s not: Brian Leonard and Bernard Scott are unrestricted free agents who have yet to sign.
Eddie Lacy, Alabama, 5-foot-11, 231 pounds
Strengths: Powerful runner with strong lower body, which enables him to run through tackles. Light on feet. Good pad level and balance. Decent hands.
Weaknesses: On-the-fly decision making. Misses openings. Inconsistent as a blocker.
Montee Ball, Wisconsin, 5-foot-10, 214 pounds
Strengths: Good vision and feel for cutbacks. Doesn’t shy away from contact but also quick enough to beat defenders off the edge. Shows patience in pulling situations. Smooth as a receiver out of the backfield.
Weaknesses: Smaller frame sustained a lot of wear and tear in college scheme. Lacks burst out of cuts. Possible character issues after being cited for trespassing when he failed to leave a porch during a street party. Also was assaulted by multiple assailants a few months later.
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA, 5-foot-10, 205 pounds
Strengths: Explodes out of cuts. Good vision and patience. Loose hips and quick feet help him get through traffic, but also will attack inside. Runs hard with good balance.
Weaknesses: Good initial speed but lacks breakaway burners. Lean build. Ball security issues. Often stopped by first contact. Needs work in pass protection.
Source: ESPN.com, NFL.com
A sampling of mock drafts from 10 national writers and who they have the Cincinnati Bengals selecting with their first-round pick:
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated – D.J. Fluker, tackle, Alabama
Jarrett Bell, USA Today – D.J. Fluker, tackle, Alabama
Gil Brandt, NFL.com – Menelik Watson, tackle, Florida State
Charley Casserly, NFL.com – Keenan Allen, wide receiver, California
Mel Kiper, ESPN – Alec Ogletree, linebacker, Georgia
Russ Lande, National Football Post – Menelik Watson, tackle, Florida State
Todd McShay, ESPN – Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Washington
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports – Kenny Vaccaro, safety, Texas
Rob Rang, CBS Sports – D.J. Fluker, tackle, Alabama
Jesse Reed, Bleacher Report – Jonathan Cyprien, safety, Florida International