No matter how next Thursday night goes (round one), the Bengals will have plenty of options based on position need when they select at 41 and 73, which will occur Friday evening. In today’s draft special, I am going to take a look at ???? prospects that they could have their eye on. Contrary to popular opinion, I think the team is going to emphasize the offensive side of the ball early, possibly with their first three selections. The defensive end class is super deep allowing them to pick up a valuable player early on day 3. Linebacker is not as much of a need with the signing of Kevin Minter, which allows them to use a later pick on that spot to groom along with Nick Vigil. This is not to say they won’t use one of their top three choices on these spots, I just think it would be smarter to wait.
#1: Joe Mixon, RB, OklahomaWithout a doubt, Mixon is the most polarizing player in this years draft. As long as you haven’t lived under a rock for the past year, you know that Mixon was on video breaking the jaw of a female student as a freshman at Oklahoma. The video came out after Oklahoma’s season and put major question marks around his draft status. Without the character concerns, Mixon is a first round pick. No question about it. He may even be the most talented RB in the draft. He has the talent to be a 3 down back and has drawn comparisons to Le’Veon Bell, a player every team in the league would love to have. Mixon figures to go somewhere in the 2nd round and if he is there at 41, it will make the decision difficult. The Bengals lost Rex Burkhead, Jeremey Hill is in his last year of his rookie deal, and Gio Bernard is recovering from his ACL injury he suffered in the latter part of last season. They need a runningback, and they have a recent history of taking them in round two.
#2: Alvin Kamara, RB, TennesseeThe reasoning for drafting a runningback are listed above. They will be taking one and there is a decent drop off after the top 5 (6 if you consider Curtis Samuel a RB). It has been proven that RBs can be found anywhere in the draft or after, but the Bengals FO place high value on the position. Kamara was not the bell cow in his two years in Rocky Top, gathering just over 200 carries, but the per carry production is there with a 6.2 ypc. At 5’10” 210, he has the size to carry the early down loads that Hill has done for the past three seasons, and he has the vision and elusiveness to break the big runs. He also showed an ability to play all three downs with over 70 catches in those two seasons.
#3: Evan Engram, TE/WR, Ole MissIf they decide to go defense on day one, Engram is a interesting possibility with their 2nd round pick. Engram comes from the Jordan Reed mold of a hybrid TE/WR, used solely as a pass catcher. How the Bengals could use him early in his career would make him a valuable piece to the offensive puzzle. Since he is a sub-par blocker, he could utilized in two-TE passing sets, as well as lining up out wide as a receiver. With 4.4 speed, he could present matchup problems all over the field. The blocking can be taught, although many thought that about Chase Coffman too.
#4 Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan St.Much like Joe Mixon, McDowell is a first round talent that will probably end up dropping to the day two. At times, he looks like a potential top ten pick, but the key words are “at times.” Too many times during the Spartans struggles last season McDowell played disinterested and did not go hard on every snap. This has brought up questions about work ethic and love for the game. These are major red flags and will cause a drop. The Bengals could end up being the beneficiary of that. They need depth on the defensive line with the loss of Peko and McDowell could end up being the steal of the 2nd round.
#5 Jordan Willis, EDGE, Kansas St.Although Willis doesn’t look like the prototypical Bengals edge rusher, he has elite athleticism for the position. He ran a 4.5 40 and is just shy of 6’4″. These insane measurables combined with his 20 sacks over the last two seasons put Willis as a fringe 1st and 2nd round pick. There are concern about his technique rushing the edge, often times too high and stiff, however his work ethic is praised. He would fit nicely opposite of Dunlap.
#6 Zach Cunningham, LB, VanderbiltSince the Kevin Minter signing is only one year, the Bengals will address the linebacker position over the three days, possibly early. Cunningham could be that guy when the Bengals pick at 41. He was an absolute tackling machine during his time with the Commodores racking up over 225 tackles his final two seasons. However, scouts wonder how many more he could of had if he was more precise. His tape showed too many arm tackle attempts leading to bigger gains for opponents. He slow 40 time at the combine has caused him to most likely slip out of round one.
What the Bengals will do… As enticing Mixon will be at this point, I think the Adam Jones fiasco this offseason will keep the Bengals from inviting more negative PR. This, combined with my guess that they go offense on Thursday leaves the three defensive players. Seven years ago, the Bengals drafted a DL in the 2nd round who had some character concerns which caused him to fall to day two. That player was Carlos Dunlap. They take the same approach and choose Malik McDowell.
What the Bengals should do… The defensive line crop in this years draft is deep. Patience could pay off. Because of this, grab the other player who dropped because of character concerns except on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Mixon is a rare Le’Veon Bell type of back. Take a chance, Bengals front office.
#1: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USCSmith-Schuster is next USC wideout in line with crazy potential, but disappointing production. This isn’t to say that he was not a quality player for the Trojans, but there wa talk of first round potential before last season. He isn’t the biggest or the fastest, which is a big part as to why he is looked at in the 2nd-3rd round.
#2: Pat Elflein, C/G, Ohio St.Due to the departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, the Bengals will need to bolster their depth on both the interior and as well as the tackles on the offensive line. Elflein is the “hometown” guy from Ohio St and is the top ranked center in this year’s draft. While it seems as if the front office still loves Russell Bodine, Elflein would be an upgrade. He could step in day one and that is rare among 3rd round selections.
#3 Ryan Anderson, LB, AlabamAnderson is the “other” Alabama linebacker. Reuben Foster gets all of the press, but it wasn’t a one man show in the second level of the Bama defense. He is built more like an NFL linebacker than Foster, but he ran rather slow at the combine. The Bengals have shown that slow times for LBs don’t make them shy away. Even with his domestic violence arrest in early 2015, he is definitely in play at 73.
#4: Tanoh Kpassagnon, EDGE, VillanovaMore so than any other edge rusher in the 2017 draft, Kpassagnon fits the Bengals build. He stands at 6’7″ 290, which is close to what Margus Hunt was when the Bengals used a 2nd round pick on him. The comparisons don’t stop there, Kpassagnon hails from outside the US (Uganda) and was unknown coming into college. He needs development, but shows flashes of elite pass rushing ability.
What the Bengals will do… The loss on the offensive line is scary, considering the line was poor a year ago and their top two guys are gone. This forces the Bengals hand to take Elflein.
What the Bengals should do… With taking offensive players in the 1st and 2nd round, the Bengals need to help the pass rush. Kpassagnon looks the part of a Bengals draft pick. However, a more established player from a bigger school (with less upside) will be there with their first pick in round four, so they go with Ryan Anderson.
At this point, there is way more than these 10 players that the Bengals will be looking at with these selections. Teams will reach, and players will fall, as well as the Bengals possibly reaching. I just feel as if these are the most logical choices as the draft board stands now.
The schedule is coming out now, and I will have my observations tomorrow.