Somewhat frustrating during the offseason, the ESPN pundacracy as well as factions of the striped masses continually harped upon the Bengals “need” for a first round linebacker and / or defensive end. The ascension of linebacker guru Paul Guenther to Defensive Coordinator only fanned these flames as the public assumed that such a defensive mind would be prejudice, focusing on the front seven, the pass rush, and its associated off-season losses. While Will Clarke nonetheless became Cincinnati’s third round third round selection in this year’s draft, so too was Margus Hunt just a year prior, suggesting that perhaps Clarke was simply a best player available selection and not oriented toward filling positional need.
A closer look at the pre-draft depth chart reveals what most Bengals fans had already acknowledged: if forced to start the season without a single draft pick, a front seven fielded from existing players would almost certainly play in the top third of NFL defenses.
As added perspective, the Bengals have historically (over the past three years) named five linebackers and four to five defensive ends to their final 53-man rosters. Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, and 10-year veteran Robert Geathers remain likely front-runners to make the final roster. Assuming the Bengals are still committed to Margus Hunt’s development, the Bengal opened this year’s NFL Draft with five defensive ends already under contract. Indeed, Will Clarke will have to prove during OTAs, training camp, and the preseason that he is worth that fifth DE spot lest he spend his first NFL season developing on the practice squad.