Oct 11, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson (47) during the game against the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
We’re just under two weeks away from this year’s draft, and all indications point to the Bengals utilizing their first selection on the “best player available.” It’s an approach that largely makes sense for the team for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t have any real pressing need nor is there a prospect worthy of such a pick to fit that need–tight end is the only position of real need I see. Second, with nine selections in the upcoming draft, Cincinnati has plenty of selections to address any and all needs they have. It’s for these reasons that it makes sense to draft the prospect who sits highest on their board.
Yet, this approach begs the questions as to whether selecting at 21 is necessary then. The Bengals could explore their options and trade out of this pick in an effort to gain another selection and/or better their standing in a latter round.
When observing the top of this year’s draft board, let’s say the players who sit between selections 21 and 53, Cincinnati’s second round selection, the draft talent doesn’t change significantly. This is a reality that is conducive of the Bengals choosing to trade down.
More specifically for Cincinnati’s likely focuses at the top of the draft, the Bengals could likely find a promising offensive tackle near the top of the draft. There are several promising tackles in this class, so moving down a handful of selections isn’t likely to leave the team without options. The same can be said when searching for a wide receiver or linebacker. Would moving down and selecting a player likely Miami standout Phillip Dorsett disappoint you? Or how about Vontaze Burfict lookalike and Texas Christian’s finest Paul Dawson? There are several players at either position who justify a high selection and could be consider “steals” if the Bengals were to draft down and score themselves another third to fifth round selection.
Jan 22, 2015; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad wide receiver Phillip Dorsett of Miami (4) runs after catching a pass during Senior Bowl South squad practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
Then there is the unique position of tight end in this draft. Frankly, I’d be surprised to see a tight end drafted in the first round this year. The only viable option is Minnesota’s Maxx Williams, and though he is a solid looking prospect, he isn’t necessarily worthy of a first round grade despite being this year’s top tight end prospect and despite the NFL’s movement towards emphasizing multiple tight ends on offense. After Williams is Miami’s Clive Walford, but he is another prospect who should be drafted in the second round (maybe early third) at best.
The Bengals are certainly in need of another tight end (or two) considering they have so little talent under contract at the position: Tyler Eifert is coming off a lost year, and then there’s little known Kevin Brock and practice squad player Jake Murphy. Cincinnati needs to draft at least one player for the position in this year’s draft–though I’d advocate for two–and even considering this necessity, the team could actually put itself in a better position to do so early in the draft by trading down.
Acquiring a selection at the top of the second while adding a third or fourth round pick would make it easier to justify drafting either Williams or Walford with Cincinnati’s first pick wherever that is. It would also give them the extra selection to select a player such as Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman or match Eifert with another Notre Dame tight end in Ben Koyak. Although the draft isn’t deep with tight ends, the Bengals would put themselves in a much better position to acquire a tight end or two, without reaching, by trading down.
The only situation where the Bengals wouldn’t want to trade down is if Alabama’s Landon Collins were available at pick 21. The Bengals clearly have a specific interest in Collins given it was Cincinnati’s defensive backs coach Mark Carrier who specifically worked him out at Alabama’s Pro Day, but this doesn’t mean selecting him is a given. Cincinnati’s safety core will likely see a change in 2016 when both George Iloka and Reggie Nelson become free agents.
The Bengals will likely prioritize re-signing Iloka, but the same may not be said for Nelson who’ll turn 33 at the start of the 2016 season. Cincinnati does have Shawn Williams ready to step in and the team has long by high on him. With that in mind, is investing in Collins the way to go? As historically a strong safety, can either he or Iloka man to deep part of the field in coverage. My inclination is that they could, but what then with Williams, a third round investment himself in 2013. Collins’ acquisition if available at 21 isn’t necessarily a given.
As I see it, the Bengals could really only stand to benefit from trading down. Although their “big board” will remain a mystery to those outside of the organization, based on the reports we’ve seen and the team’s position-specific needs, it seems unlikely that they’ll see much of a difference in the promise of many players who’ll sit between 21-53 on their board. The Bengals could add another selection by trading down and either continue to build their pool of talent or secure another player they like later in the draft by trading up in order to get that guy. Although Cincinnati isn’t known for trading during the draft, I expect the team to give a little more consideration to the move this year.
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