It’s like Christmas in April. Yes, I love the NFL Draft far more than the average human should.
The 2013 version of the draft kicks off Thursday with the first round. Rounds 2-3 will follow on Friday and the proceedings will conclude on Saturday with rounds 4-7. (Is this a good time to mention I like the relatively-new format that the NFL uses? It’s better than doing rounds 1-3 on Saturday and then rounds 4-7 on Sunday as in years past. Making the draft a prime-time event on Thursday and Friday night, and then coming back with a full day of activities on Saturday was a genius move.)
The Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in a favorable situation in this year’s draft overall, thanks in large part to the extra second-round pick they have (No. 37 overall) which they received as part of the Carson Palmer deal. And for one last time, on behalf of every Bengal fan on the planet: Thank you Oakland Raiders for making that boneheaded trade! This will be the final of the two picks the Bengals received for a washed-up quarterback as they also hauled in cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round last year. He should be ready to heavily contribute and perhaps push for a starting spot after his “redshirt” season of 2012.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the Bengals’ biggest needs and how things might transpire later this week.
The four biggest needs on the team are, in order, safety, right tackle, running back and linebacker.
At safety, the Bengals would love to land Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro with the No. 21 pick of the first round, but he’ll likely go a few picks before Cincinnati is on the board. Vaccaro (6-0, 214) has been linked to the Dallas Cowboys for weeks and unless that is some type of smokescreen on Jerry Jones’ part, fans can expect Vaccaro won’t be a Bengal. However, if he’s available, I hope the Bengals take him. The team desperately needs a starting safety to pair with Reggie Nelson.
The other top safety available is Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International. Cyprien (6-1, 217) was originally thought to be a second-round pick – and might still end up going in that round – but some recent mock drafts have projected him as a late first-rounder. If the Bengals don’t get Vaccaro at 21 and Cyprien is available at 37, look for the Bengals to pounce on him.
At right tackle, Andre Smith is an unrestricted free agent and there is a chance the Bengals will re-sign their 2009 first-round pick. However, there appears to be just as good or better of a chance that Cincinnati will look elsewhere and take a RT early in the draft. Could another right tackle from Alabama – DJ Fluker – be available when the Bengals are on the board in the first round? It’s very doubtful, but he’d be a really nice fit in Cincinnati if he’s sitting there at 21 and Smith remains unsigned. Again, Fluker lasting that long appears to be a long-shot at best though.
Much like safety, it’s a strong/deep year for prospects at the OT position. There could be three offensive tackles taken in the top-12 picks, including the No. 1 overall projected player in the draft – Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M – along with Eric Fisher from Central Michigan and Lane Johnson from Oklahoma. Then Fluker is expected to go soon after Johnson. The fifth-best tackle on the board appears to be Justin Pugh from Syracuse, who could be an option with one of the Bengals’ second-round selections. Cincinnati is also reportedly keeping a close eye on Ohio State’s Reid Fragel, who is widely projected as a third-rounder, but could sneak into the latter stages of the second round.
Now let’s talk about the running back position. I definitely expect to see the Bengals use one of their first two picks on a running back. The best back in the draft appears to be Eddie Lacy from Alabama and I think there’s a very realistic possibility he lands in Cincinnati if guys like Vaccaro and Fluker aren’t available when the Bengals are on the clock in the first round. If the Bengals don’t get Lacy at 21, no way he’ll still be around when they pick again at 37.
Therefore, another option at the RB spot might be Montee Ball of Wisconsin who is projected as a second-rounder. I think he’s highly underrated. Neither Lacy nor Ball are burners, but they’re effective, tough backs, and they each have far more big-play ability than current Bengals starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. OK, that’s not saying much, but the bottom line is that I think Lacy and Ball will be good NFL backs and the Bengals could end up taking one of them somewhat early. And if the Bengals don’t take a running back with one of their first two picks, they’ll probably take one later in the second round (No. 53 overall). Could Ball fall that far? I doubt it, but if he does and the Bengals haven’t snatched up a back yet, look for them to take the former Badger.
Let’s Not Lose Sight Of This…
One thing that might be getting overlooked is that Bengals still need a linebacker. Rey Maualuga is still penciled in as a starter (I apologize if you just face-palmed yourself so hard that you broke your nose) and while we all love the James Harrison signing, he’ll be 35 in May, has experienced trouble with his left knee the last two seasons and has never played the strong-side (SAM) linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense (although Mike Zimmer and the Bengals do mix things up and play some 3-4 as well).
Vontaze Burfict is the only long-term certainty in the group – and calling him a certainty might be a bit premature to be honest. I think he’ll be able to back up his surprisingly-great rookie season with another good year, but stranger things have happened. Yes, it was mostly due to off-field concerns, but Burfict was an undrafted free agent. It’s not like he was some sure-thing as soon as he joined the team. He needed to prove himself and he still needs to put up consecutive good seasons to really solidify himself as one of the best young linebackers in the game.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the Bengals need to find a linebacker in the draft that can at least add depth and help them right away in 2013. I certainly hope they take a LB with one of their top-four picks, as long as they don’t reach for anyone.
Interestingly, a few analysts have predicted that the Bengals will land Alec Ogletree. He does have all the makings of a traditional Bengals’ pick, does he not? He’s from the unofficial Triple-A affiliate – the Georgia Bulldogs – he has immense talent and his stock might be slipping a bit due to off-field concerns. Match made in heaven, right? In Mel Kiper’s most-recent mock draft on ESPN.com, he has Ogletree going to Cincinnati.
But all joking aside, the Bengals have cleaned up their act as far as drafting questionable characters in recent years. Unless they are absolutely convinced Ogletree is a star in the making, they probably won’t be willing to risk using their first-round pick on him. Then again, if some of the players they really want like Vaccaro and Fluker are off the board and Ogletree is sitting there at 21, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see the Bengals take him.
One final thought while we’re talking about linebackers: Please don’t take Manti Te’o. Not only would he be a distraction, he’s extremely overrated. I hope some team is foolish enough to burn a first-round pick on him; I just hope it isn’t the Bengals. Kiper – a noted Notre Dame homer – has Te’o going with the No. 20 pick of the first round to the Chicago Bears. Yes, exactly one spot ahead of where the Bengals pick. Then again, Kiper is on an island here. I haven’t seen anyone else predict Te’o will go that high recently.
That’s all for now from here on the observation deck. Definitely looking forward to the best event in sports that doesn’t involve an actual sporting event being played.