The Cincinnati Bengals don’t talk about how transformative the No. 1 overall pick in the draft could be for the franchise. Instead they focus on “getting it right.”
Coaches and executives spent time at the NFL Combine this past week scouting and interviewing players, collecting as much research as they could on prospects they might consider at any round. But they’re already on the clock, holding the only spot without any wonder of who will be available, and it’s not something to take lightly.
Cincinnati has the No. 1 pick for the first time since 2003, as the Bengals try to rebuild under Zac Taylor, who went 2-14 his first season and now is in the midst of his first full offseason.
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“We’re going to put everything we have into it, to make it the right pick for us,” director of player personnel Duke Tobin said. “When you get in this spot, you want to make the most of it. It’s a hard process, getting to this spot. It’s painful. But now that we’re here, we’re going to make the most of it. We’re going to pick the right guy for us. And I think there are guys who are great prospects who are going to be available to us. Everyone’s going to be available to us. That’s kind of the nice thing that we can just go through our process and make the right decision for us.”
The Bengals haven’t seen a lot of success with first-round picks over the years, but there also has been a level of guessing that had to be done in the preparation process for those selections.
Last year’s pick, former Alabama lineman Jonah Williams at No. 11, ended up tearing his labrum during offseason workouts and missed his entire rookie season, so it’s still unknown what he will provide. Center Billy Price, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, already seems to have been cast aside after moving around the lineup last year, and 2017 selection John Ross has been too injured to really make an impact.
Even 2016 pick William Jackson seems to have taken steps back after once showing so much promise, and then there was the Cedric Ogbuehi bust in 2015.
“Every team has its misses,” Tobin said. “… When you don’t solve it in the draft you to different answers and try to piece it together.”
That’s why Taylor wants to take as much time as he can making that first pick. He said it’s possible the Bengals will know who they want in March or early April, but they want to “use every second” they can to make sure they know everything they can about the prospects they are considering.
As a second-year coach, it’s an exciting position to be in, as difficult as it was getting through a two-win season that “earned” Cincinnati the right to pick first. He said he’s not worried about overthinking it.
“It’s a good position to be in,” Taylor said. “Again, I’m not happy with how we got here, but now that we are here, certainly you get a chance to use these four months however you see fit and we’re in a position where we get to decide. Last year we had the 11th pick and we knew we wanted Jonah, but you’re sitting there crossing your fingers as every pick ticks off the clock and ‘is he going to get taken or not?’ Now you know, ‘Hey, if we find a guy we want at No. 1 and we can go take him,’ it takes a little bit of that stress off your plate.”
Tobin said it’s unlikely the team trades the No. 1 pick, but “anything is possible.” The Bengals will be in prime position for some trades later in the draft, as they have the ability to pick first in every round and that could especially advantageous coming into the second day of the draft. The first round takes place April 23, followed by the second and third rounds on April 24 and the remaining four rounds on April 25.
The Bengals will be able to start with a clean board on Day 2 knowing who fell from the first round that they expected to go, and if a player they liked isn’t available, other teams might be interested in trading up and offering more picks.
“The first pick in every other round is important,” Tobin said. “That pick has become popular because people go home and they come back and then they get visions of guys who were left over from the day before. And we’ll do the same thing. There will be guys left over from the round before that we didn’t feel that were going to be there. And then we’ll have to weigh the options of just taking a guy there, maybe sliding back, we’ll see what comes. But those picks are valuable.”