Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor remembers thinking maybe he had a chance to get drafted coming out of Nebraska in 2007, but instead he was recruited for a brief cup of coffee with Tampa Bay as a college free agent, and, like many that don’t end up making it in the NFL, he found his path as a coach.
Now Taylor enjoys being the one delivering better news than he received during the draft when he makes calls to the players selected by the Bengals.
Taylor gives the credit to director of player personnel Duke Tobin and the scouting department for their hard working preparing all year for the NFL Draft, and he said “it’s a fun process” to be a part of each year. The Bengals have a chance to add more young talent with seven picks in the 2023 draft, selecting at the No. 28 spot in each round, beginning with the first round Thursday.
Here are five things to know about the Bengals’ draft process and needs…
1. Flexibility to go for best available
The Bengals have draft needs for sure, but they also feel comfortable enough with the additions made in free agency to go with the best pick available to them rather than honing in on one or two positions.
In fact, Tobin said they are ruling out any positions in the first round except specialists and quarterback.
That means Cincinnati could surprise with a pick at a position that isn’t considered an immediate need if a good player on their board falls and is still available at No. 28. Taylor said the team is looking at both short-term and long-term needs, and next season a slew of starters are set to become free agents, such as defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackle D.J. Reader, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins and linebacker Logan Wilson —the last two of those who are believed to be in discussions for extensions to their expiring rookie deals.
Last year, the Bengals anticipated the current need in the secondary by drafting three defensive backs.
2. Positions of need
Running back is the one clear spot to fill still, but tight end, cornerback and depth at defensive tackle appear to be the next biggest short-term needs.
Cincinnati lost four starters in free agency — safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, tight end Hayden Hurst and unsigned cornerback Eli Apple — and third-down running back specialist Samaje Perine. The Bengals then added former Rams safety Nick Scott and former Minnesota tight end Irv Smith Jr., and a depth piece at cornerback in Sidney Jones IV, but that running back spot remains unaddressed — and there’s still uncertainty with Joe Mixon’s future.
Cam Taylor-Britt, who filled in for injured Awuzie last season, is expected to retain a starting job at cornerback, and Awuzie is on track to be ready for the start of the season, he said, but the Bengals could use some insurance there. The same goes for tight end, where Drew Sample also returns but Smith brings the baggage of a history with injuries. B.J. Hill especially could use more help in rotation at defensive tackle.
3. Open to trading down
Tobin said last week the Bengals could consider trading out of the first round, but it depends on how much they like their options as their pick is nearing. The fifth-year option that comes with first-round picks doesn’t impact their interest in moving out of the first round, Tobin said, because if the team likes a guy enough, he would be in extension talks anyway.
Historically speaking, the Bengals have only traded out of the first round once in 1989, coming off Super Bowl XXIII. They gave up the No. 27 pick to the Falcons and added picks in the second, fourth and 10th rounds. That was when there were 28 teams, and Cincinnati was able to pick at No. 35 in the second round.
“You’ve got to have somebody that wants to move in and so you’ve got to have a player where in somebody else’s mind of coming up and giving up picks or players or future picks for a guy,” Tobin said. “So, if he’s that good for some other team, maybe he’s good for you, too. So, it’s all dependent how convicted are you on the guy that is available that you will be picking and how much you’re getting in return. But we’ll look at it if it comes up. But it’s all hypothetical right now.”
4. Offensive line questions
The Bengals seem to have a plethora of options at right tackle with Jonah Williams expected to switch sides, barring his trade request getting met, and others like Jackson Carman and Cody Ford mentioned as competitors in that mix. There’s also Hakeem Adeniji and D’Ante Smith, who have played there in the past.
But this draft could be an indication of how comfortable the organization is with those options. All of those guys except Williams also have played guard and provide depth inside, but coaches always say they can’t have enough offensive linemen.
5. Backup quarterback?
The Bengals still have Jake Browning but Brandon Allen remains unsigned and while they could find another option through free agency or college free agency, they could also use a late-round pick on that backup quarterback spot.
Cincinnati drafted Joe Burrow No. 1 overall in 2020, but the year before that, the Bengals picked up Ryan Finley in the fourth round to backup Andy Dalton. In 2018, a seventh-round pick was used on Logan Woodside. A.J. McCarron was a fifth-round pick in 2014.
“I think once the draft gets going that’s certainly a possibility,” Tobin said. “If that’s the best guy available, and we feel like he’s going fit a role and a need for us, we’ll certainly consider that as it goes.”
Thursday: Round 1, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Friday: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Saturday: Rounds 4-7, ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
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