If the Bengals find themselves selecting in the first half of the first round, expect the Bengals to do one of two things: draft a linebacker or trade down. Rey Maualuga will not be back next year and Vontaze Burfict is looking more and more like a lock to take his place. Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson are both free agents, and while Howard should be back because he is a superior talent who can be signed for cheap coming off an injury, Lawson has been exploited game after game this season. Dontay Moch is still an unknown, and Vincent Rey, Roddrick Muckleroy and Dan Skuta are all solid but not starters. Given that set, a top flight outside linebacker might be just what the Bengals need.
Before anyone gets too fired up, the Bengals will have to lose the entire rest of the season if they want a short at drafting top ranked Jarvis Jones (OLB, Georgia), so it’s better to just forget that. A God-send would be to have Barkevious Mingo (OLB, LSU) slip just enough to reach us, though our season would still have to go mostly catastrophic rather than full nuclear holocaust. Interestingly enough, Mingo is the only player in the Draft that the Bengals would consider moving up for if the price was one of their second round picks. Damontre Moore (OLB, Texas A&M) is a hybrid like Moch, which may or may not be something that peaks interest. The only other option would be Manti Te’o (ILB, Notre Dame), who, while an exceptional talent, is an pure middle linebacker. Drafting a first rounder at the same position that Burfict looks to ascend to after being completely snubbed on his own Draft Day probably isn’t the smartest way to go, and Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer has never allowed a rookie to start at middle linebacker.
If the Bengals opt to trade down, then it will be to re-engage original targets Lattimore or Vaccaro. No other scenario makes sense at this point. However, there are still a few X-factors to be played out. Junior Joseph Randle (RB, Oklahoma State) or sophomore Giovanni Bernard (RB, UNC) could both enter the draft a year early and give some flexibility to teams in need of a new backfield. Junior Tony Jefferson (S, OSU) would bump a few prospects down if he was to enter early as well. While it is too early to get to accurate with picks, the idea that the Bengals may have to redirect a few scouting trips based on a failing season isn’t.