Bengals’ draft class could fuel a return to the playoffs

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Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Bengals are in the midst of OTAs and evaluating young talent. Hopefully, the draft class will yield players that can deliver a playoff win.

OTAs are underway and the feel of football has returned to the shores of Cincinnati. That strange withdrawal–felt by most Bengals fans last year–was the lack of a playoff berth. The Bengals were absent from the postseason festivities for the first time in six years. Remembering the way Cincinnati amassed that 6-9-1 record is still painful. After getting used to double-digit W’s, six wins was like revisiting the 1990s. But, the 2017 campaign looks promising. Hopefully, Cincy will turn the draft class into another trip to the playoffs.

During the free agency period (lovingly referred to as Armageddon), more high-caliber players hit the lottery and moved on. The Bengals lost the likes of Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler and Rex Burkhead. The offensive line will be in musical chairs mode, as players are shuffled around to create the best protection for Andy Dalton. At this point, it is what it is. The return of Andre Smith should give some bounce to the run blocking, while Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi get into the groove. Fans will have to trust the process.

How will the Bengals get to the postseason after that dreary record? With the returning veterans and an eager band of rookies, a trip to the playoffs should be doable. By grabbing the best players available and doing extensive research, the Bengals have amassed young talent that should be playing deep into January.

The Not So Usual Suspects

When Burkhead shredded the Baltimore Ravens’ defense and looked like a clone of James Brooks, it was clear to see he wasn’t staying. Now, it was about what would be done to replace him. Giovani Bernard’s ACL would be a factor and Jeremy Hill needed a nudge. The answer? Joe Mixon to the rescue. 

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Mixon has the potential to be the Bengals Rookie of the Year candidate. Looking beyond the fact Marvin Lewis may not play him much, he has the tools needed to get the Bengals’ running game back on track. He’s also ready to get on the field and prove his worth.

Then there’s The Flash a.k.a John Ross. If anyone can open things up for A.J. Green, this is the man to do it. Well. ICYMI, Ross broke the sound barrier, at the NFL Combine, with a blazing time of 4.22 seconds. His 40-yard dash mark still sounds unreal. But, the Bengals have him as a weapon to ease double coverage on Green. Once again, it’s up to Lewis to see that he gets on the field. But, when he does, look for the trail of smoke to the end zone. That’s where you’ll find him.

Honorable mention has to fall with Josh Malone. Who was the kid with the third-best time (WR) at the Combine? You guessed it. If the Bengals were looking to inject some speed into the lineup, it’s definitely been done.

Defensively Speaking

The Bengals coveted two players, during the draft. Thankfully, both players were still around when Cincinnati was again on the clock. Defensive end Jordan Willis is a quick, soft-spoken, beast who will be a nice surprise on the line.

"“When you watch him on tape you can visualize him becoming a good pro and so far he’s shown every bit of it,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, per Bengals.com. “He’s everything you want. He never came off the field, he defends the run well. He rushes the passer, he always runs to the ball. We like our young guys.”"

Next: Lewis Just Doesn't Get It

Another young guy they like is Carl Lawson. He comes in with a nose for the quarterback. During his playing days at Auburn, Lawson amassed 14.5 sacks and 24,5 tackles for loss. Yeah, those are mouth-watering stats. If he can translate those numbers to the NFL…whoa.

The Bengals are loaded with talent on paper. Now, it’s time to move forward with the real deal.

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