Saturday: Defensive backs
Editor's Note: This is the third in an eight-part series previewing the Cincinnati Bengals draft needs by position group. Today's look is at wide receivers and tight ends.
Roster (contract length):A.J. Green (2019), Tyler Eifert (2016), Tyler Kroft (2018), Brandon LaFell (2016), Brandon Tate (2016), C.J. Uzomah (2018), James Wright (2017), Mario Alford (2018), Jake Kumerow (2017), Michael Bennett (2017), Matt Lengel (2017), John Peters (2016)
Analysis: Any time your list starts with A.J. Green, you're ahead of the curve. Add a guy like Tyler Eifert, who is coming off a career year in which he set the franchise record for tight ends with 13 touchdowns, and it doesn't take too much more to create an elite unit.
Using the 24th pick in the draft to add one of the best available receivers could do the trick, assuming four or five of them haven't flown off the board by the time the Bengals go on the clock. The signing of Brandon LaFell last week was an answer to losing Mohamed Sanu, who signed a free-agent contract with Atlanta. But the Bengals still need to fill the bigger void left by Marvin Jones' departure to Detroit.
There is reason to believe James Wright, whom the team drafted in the seventh round in 2014, could eventually be that guy. But there also is reason for a healthy dose of doubt. Wright only had five catches for 91 yards as a rookie before suffering a knee injury that forced him to have microfracture surgery. He should be ready to compete by training camp, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to fully recover from such a serious procedure.
Last year’s seventh-round pick, Mario Alford, projects as more of a slot guy at 5-foot-9. Jake Kumerow, the Division III Player of the Year as a senior at Wisconsin-Whitewater, is a darkhorse candidate. The Bengals really like what they saw in training camp last year, but they didn’t have a spot for him on the roster. Kumerow spent the season on the practice squad, and now that roster spot is there for the taking. None of those options are going to prevent the Bengals from grabbing a receiver in the first or second round, however.
Needs: A replacement for Jones obviously tops the list. Jones was more than just a burner. In addition to being a vertical threat, he was physical enough to be a great red-zone talent, a strong blocker and a guy who would out-fight any defender for the ball. Finding a clone isn't likely, but the Bengals will look for someone who has the ability to develop into that type of well-rounded receiver. And they won't stop once they think they've found one. Even though the team likes the promise shown by Alford and Wright, if they already have taken one receiver and other one they like falls to them in the early to mid rounds, they will pull the trigger again.
Top 5 prospects
1 . Corey Coleman, Baylor
He has the kind of blazing speed that will make him a vertical threat, but at 5-foot-11 he lacks ideal size. Has the added plus of being able to return punts.
2. Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
The slow 40 time at his pro day dropped him from the top spot and could possibly result in him falling far enough to still be on the board when the Bengals pick at 24. Everything else about him is elite, from his size to the way he fights for contested balls.
3. Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Scouts love his knowledge of the position, from his understand of field leverage to the way he creates space, plus he’s explosive off the line and reaches top speed in a hurry.
4. Josh Doctson, TCU
Has ideal height at 6-foot-2 but needs to put weight on his 202-pound frame. There’s also a knock on his ability and/or willingness to block.
5. Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Comes from great stock as the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson. Thomas is a big target at 6-foot-3, but he’s shown a reluctance to go after balls that are off target. He’s the kind of red-zone target that, coupled with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, would give Bengals opponents nightmares.
Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa
Blessed with great speed and size (6-foot-3), Garrett averaged 122.2 receiving yards per game for the Golden Hurricane. Scouts love his body control, but like many taller wide receivers, Garrett has long, loping strides that prevent him from getting up to top speed right away. He’s got enough upside to entice a team, perhaps the Bengals, to draft him as high as the third round.