For many top talents at the combine, the scrutiny is just beginning. With several of the Bengals’ potential selections in action, let’s take a look at how they have performed.
The NFL combine is in full swing and several prospects have already turned heads and raised their draft grades. Others have simply raised eyebrows. With the Bengals in need of several roster upgrades across the board, the rise and fall of stock for prospective selections brings extra intrigue. Let’s check in on some trendy Cincinnati mock picks.
One of the biggest points of contention in this combine has come in the form of the 240-pound running back phenom. Carrying five pounds of water weight controversy, the LSU product disappointed in the vertical measurement. At 28.5 inches, Fournette’s vertical is the fifth worst for a running back since 1999. A universally accepted measure of burst and explosion, the result raised a few red flags. Per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the issue might indicate more than just a lack of burst:
Despite the poor vertical, Fournette largely impressed with his 4.51 40 time. Though that number doesn’t represent a ton of breakaway speed at running back, when paired with his 240-pound frame he becomes a semi-truck in the open field. NFL Research put his unique blend in perspective:
Fournette should still go high, but he has not had the mind-blowing combine to match the expectations.
If Leonard Fournette is the 2017 NFL draft prize for backfield production, Dalvin Cook represents a nice consolation. Cook is projected in most mock drafts to fall in the top half of the first round. Several of his combine measurables, however, do not reflect this.
Of the 16 backs that participated in the combine, Cook finished third worst in the cone drill at 7.27 seconds. Since 1999, every single Pro Bowl and All-Pro running back had a cone drill of 7.09 or less. A measurement of the ability to quickly change speeds and cut, PFF ranks the 3-cone drill as one of the most important in the draft.
Cook did fare well in other drills, though. His 22 reps on the bench were fourth best out of running backs. With a 30.5” vertical and a 4.49 40 time, the Florida State running back finished ahead of Fournette in both drills. Cook’s ability to catch out of the backfield also gives him a tremendous leg up.
As Jeremy Hill desperately clings to his job, Gio battles injury and durability issues and Rex Burkhead hits the open market, the Bengals are certainly in need of backfield depth. Should they expend the 9th overall pick for it? No.
Despite Hill’s issues, the team’s inability to block remains a larger concern. Pro Football Focus ranked the Bengal’s line as 13th in the NFL for 2016. Included are the second best graded left tackle Andrew Whitworth and 9th best run-blocking right guard Kevin Zeitler. Both linemen are looking for paydays, and the Bengals have seemed largely uninterested in retaining their services thus far.
While Duke Tobin marvels at the success of Ezekiel Elliot, he understands the situation the rookie was put into last year. With the unquestioned best offensive line in football, Elliot had every opportunity to flourish. Why then, would Cincinnati entertain the idea of drafting a running back? Perhaps he and Marvin Lewis see something in their unproven youngsters from the 2015 draft class. Lewis’ latest comments suggest they do. If Fournette or Cook are selected at nine, let’s hope he is right.
Linebacker and EDGE
A popular pick for the Bengals, linebacker Reuben Foster was set to impress at the combine…until he wasn’t. The Alabama product was asked to leave following a heated exchange with a combine hospital worker. Though his stock appears unharmed, the incident certainly doesn’t help his image.
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The head-scratching behavior isn’t unprecedented. As Foster traversed the recruiting process in high school, he famously got a tattoo displaying his Auburn pride. Foster committed to Alabama.
As Stripe Hype pointed out, despite the red flags, if any team would ultimately draft the linebacker it would be the Bengals. The NFL world will now have to wait until his Pro Day to see how he measures up.
Already projected as a top-10 talent, defensive end Solomon Thomas further impressed at the combine. He was clocked at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Even more impressive than his speed, though, is his footwork:
Thomas tied for the fourth most bench reps for a defensive lineman with 30. He also recorded a 126” broad jump, which ranked fifth best. The Stanford end didn’t blow scouts away like Myles Garrett, but he didn’t do anything to hurt his stock either. He looks the part of a solid draft pick.
Few players have done more to raise their draft position than Temple’s Hassan Reddick. Reddick participated as a defensive lineman, where he recorded a scorching 4.52 40 time. Over the past 10 draft combines, that ranks as the fourth fastest. The numbers may be skewed, however. While he ran with the defensive lineman, most scouts project him as a linebacker with pass-rushing ability. Few have gushed over the athletic defender more than NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock:
"I left thinking he could be an inside linebacker in a 3-4, an inside linebacker in a 4-3, and an occasional edge rusher. Bottom line: He showed he can do a bunch of things and do them well. He might not have to come off the field."
The Bengals need speed and front seven help. Last year they ranked 21st in rush defense, giving up 113.3 yards a game. As a pass rushing unit, Cincinnati ranked 19th with 33 sacks on the season. Adding the likes of Foster, Thomas or even Reddick would improve both of those statistics, while also adding speed and potential tight end and running back coverage in the passing game.
While Reddick has impressed, the 9th pick seems like a reach at this point. With all the red flags Foster brings, if Thomas is still available at 9 the Bengals should jump. A splash at running back poses quite a risk, and teams have shown a consistent ability to grab effective backfield help in the later rounds. The Bengals should select Solomon Thomas and kick back as he harasses AFC North quarterbacks and plugs up a leaky run defense.